City Nature Challenge 2018 begins!


Guest post by City Nature Challenge co-organizer Lila Higgins (@lhiggins) from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

We’re excited to launch the third City Nature Challenge, which involves thousands of participants from 69 metropolitan areas around the world. And 64 of these areas will be using iNaturalist to document biodiversity.


Over the next four days, each city is in friendly competition to see who can get the most people involved to record the most observations of the most species. All 64 projects using iNaturalist are in the umbrella project for City Nature Challenge 2018 so you can see how the cities stack up in real time as the observations come in.

If you’re in one of these metropolitan areas, get outside and start observing biodiversity (preferably the wild stuff)!

Even if you aren’t, you can still help. We expect half a million observations from 10,000 people, so there will be plenty of new observations to identify and new people to welcome. If you’re logged in to your iNaturalist account, check out all of the City Nature Challenge observations that still need IDs. You can filter from there based on your interest and expertise. Here’s a short tutorial video for the Identify page to get you started.

Observations must be made by April 30th but can still be uploaded and identified during May 1-3. The final tally from each project will be recorded at 9 AM local time on Friday, May 4, with the results announced after the 9 AM in Maui tally is made. More detailed results will be shared on Monday, May 7.

How It All Started: Los Angeles Versus San Francisco

In 2016, Alison Young from the California Academy of Sciences and I came up with an idea to celebrate the first ever national Citizen Science Day at our museums. We decided to turn the documentation of nature in our respective cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, into a competition. We capitalized on our cities’ long-standing rivalry – the Dodgers versus the Giants (debatable), which city has the best burritos (clearly L.A.), and which city has the highest rents (not funny) – and encouraged Angelenos and San Franciscans to get outside and document nature.

In just 7 days, over 1,000 people submitted almost 20,000 observations to the challenge! Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti got involved and sent in his own picture of a common garden snail to the project. Other, more rare species were also documented. In Los Angeles, our famous yet elusive mountain lion, P-22, showed up on a camera trap in Griffith Park to be counted for the challenge. In San Francisco, two iconic endangered species were documented including the Mission blue butterfly and San Francisco garter snake. But, it wasn’t just L.A. and San Francisco residents paying attention, urban nature lovers all over the United States were following the challenge too. Many wanted to join in the fun.

(P.S.: Los Angeles won!)

And So It Grew

Capitalizing on the buzz, we expanded the challenge to cover the entire United States. In 2017, 16 cities across the country took part. From Miami to New York, from Dallas to Seattle, 14 new cities joined in, all trying to take Los Angeles down. In just 5 short days, around 4,000 people submitted over 125,000 observations of wildlife living in U.S. urban areas. Orcas were spotted off the coast of Seattle, a critically imperiled Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterfly was documented in Miami, and once again, mountain lion P-22 showed up for Los Angeles. A total of 8,629 species were documented, including 393 rare, endangered, or threatened species. There was one species seen in every single city – that tenacious urban dweller, the pigeon! And in the end Dallas, Texas won for the most number of observations, with almost 25,000!

From the very beginning, we both said we were starting off with L.A and San Francisco, but that we’d go national in 2017, and international in 2018. Setting goals is something we’re pretty good at, but we didn’t necessarily believe it would expand as rapidly as it has.

This year the City Nature Challenge involves 69 cities, from 17 countries, on 5 continents, and organizers in each city have developed partnerships with over 300 organizations. Although we can’t be certain that we’ll meet this year’s projected 10,000 participants and 500,000 observations, we’ve been pretty good at predicting results in past years. What nature will we find in our cities this year? Will participants in Mumbai document the charismatic leopards that live in their city? How many rare, endangered, and threatened species will we document? Will kids in both Tokyo and London submit pictures of honeybees? Will pigeons be found in every city, just like they were in 2017? With people all over the world taking part in the City Nature Challenge this year, being curious and observant and documenting the nature that is local to them, we’re bound to find some surprises!

Join the challenge, help your city win, and most importantly help us better understand nature in our cities.

You bet your butt Austin’s gonna win. >:)