Citizen scientists head outside for City Nature Challenge

Published 1:06 pm Monday, April 26, 2021

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North Carolina residents can join citizen scientists around the world – and challenge other budding naturalists across the state – in the 2021 City Nature Challenge from Friday to May 3.

The annual four-day event has become an opportunity for participants of all ages to celebrate the outdoors while engaging in and advancing scientific research. Participants can take photos of plants and animals found in their backyards and around their neighborhoods and upload them to the free mobile app iNaturalist. Scientists use that information alongside images of wildlife from around the world for research, and the data helps them understand our outdoor world a little better.

“No matter where you live, there is always something new and fascinating to find outside,” said Jonathan Marchal, regional organizer for City Nature Challenge WNC and director of education at The North Carolina Arboretum. “The City Nature Challenge celebrates that excitement of exploring our outdoor surroundings while engaging in scientific discovery throughout our state.”

In addition to being a regional competition, this year’s challenge will focus on global collaboration that celebrates nature and combines the observations of an estimated 41,000 worldwide participants.

Every county in North Carolina is represented as one of five participating regions each with a lead institution. These regions will be engaged in a competition to see which one can upload the highest number of observations as well as the most species.

Over the course of the weekend, North Carolina science and environmental organizations will host in-person and virtual programming and other online activities representing the state’s wide range of natural environments and their incredible biodiversity.

These organizations will link their participant’s observations to one of five lead institutions and their iNaturalist projects:

● The North Carolina Arboretum: Asheville and Western North Carolina;

● Greensboro Science Center: Greater Piedmont Region and the Triad;

● Oakboro Choice STEM School: Greater Charlotte Region;

● The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at PrairieRidge: Triangle Region; and

● The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville: Coastal Plain.

Here’s how to participate in the 2021 City Nature Challenge: residents 13 years or older can download the free iNaturalist app on their iPhone or Android device, then join their region’s City Nature Challenge project. After that, it’s as easy as going outside and taking pictures of nature.
Children 12 years or younger can submit their photographs through the ecoEXPLORE website, a free K-8 youth education program developed by The North Carolina Arboretum, and their photos which will then be added to their region’s iNaturalist project. There are even opportunities to learn more through specific classes and to earn special BioBlitz Badges.

Following the collection period that ends May 3, participants can then use the iNaturalist app to help identify wildlife found by others until May 9.

Last year more than 2,200 North Carolinians uploaded observations of more than 32,000 plants, animals and other living organisms as part of the 2020 City Nature Challenge, and organizers expect even more engagement this year.

“Nature does not have to be exotic to be exciting and informative,” Marchal said. “A squirrel or a beetle or a backyard tree all offer chances to engage with our environment and observe what is happening outside all around us.”

The City Nature Challenge started out in 2016 as a regional event between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Since then, it has grown to include more than 170 cities with more than 441,000 observations made.

For more information on the City Nature Challenge, including how you can take a free online introductory class and earn a North Carolina BioBlitz badge, visit

The North Carolina Arboretum is off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 393. From I-26, take Exit 33 and follow Blue Ridge Parkway signs for two miles to the entrance ramp. Visit for parking fees and hours of operation.