04 de marzo de 2024

Guide: Using iNaturalist to find art references

As a scientific illustrator focusing on animals, I find iNaturalist to be a crucial part of my workflow. However, I feel like this potential has been overlooked by other artists. In this guide, I explain how I use the site to curious artists who might want to start doing the same.

Note: iNaturalist is a platform primarily concerned with wildlife, not domesticated species. You won't find pugs or calico cats, but there are 464,000+ species for you to browse through.
Note 2: I highly recommend using iNaturalist on browser instead of the app.

1. Why iNaturalist?

As of today (early 2024), search engine results have been flooded by AI-generated images. Beyond the well-known ethical issues, these images are often anatomically incorrect or factually wrong, making them unreliable references.

But even before this issue became widespread, I already found iNaturalist to be a more reliable way to search for wildlife images due to how the site functions:

  • The search bar's autofill pulls up actual names instead of treating them as keywords. So for example, searching for "whale shark", gives you actual whale sharks, instead of whales or other sharks.
  • Species identifications can be verified by other users, mostly biologists and naturalists. This means that picture of a honeybee you see is much more likely to be a real honeybee instead of a fly or a wasp that looks like a bee. If the image has a green label with "Research Grade" written on it, it means is has been verified by at least 2 different users. Though people aren't always right, this gives results that are more valid than search engine. Trust me, there are a lot of people out there with a fly tattooed on their arm.
  • Submissions to this site (called observations) have various searchable data attached to them. For our needs, the two main important ones are species names and geographical locations, which I'll expand below. Do note, however, that observations are user-submitted so each one of them might have different permissions, as you can find at the bottom of each image.

2. Basic: Searching iNaturalist

On the top left of each iNaturalist page is a basic search bar. It accepts various inputs like species names, locations, usernames, and others. We'll focus on the first two.

Searching for species names can be done in various languages. If you forget something's English name, try to search its name in your native language. Note that common names might be specific or broad in meaning, like how "Horse" is just one species of animals but "Crab" refers to roughly 7000 different species, more than all mammals combined. if you want to be more precise, go to Wikipedia to look for the actual species name that you want.

Searching for geographic locations shows you all observations that have been uploaded from that area. The location could be an entire country, a city, or a nameless rectangle that fits your screen width if you press the "Redo search in map" button. You can use this function to find what birds should fly in the background of your drawing set in Cambodia, or find the location of IRL specific trees in your area for leaf pressing.

The pins on the map come in various colors. Greens are plants, blues are vertebrates, reds are invertebrates, magenta are fungi, though the pin colors might change depending on your search parameters. Some pins appear at full opacity, meaning they show the exact location of where the photo was taken, while others appear ghostly, meaning the location is an approximate because the uploader has decided to toggle this in their privacy settings. Unless you need results from extremely specific locations, this probably doesn't affect you very much.

Either way, after using the search bar, you'll be taken to what is called the "Explore" page where you can refine your search results better. On this page, both search functions can be combined in case you want specific results like: what butterflies live in Tokyo. Alternatively you also could skip the search bar and go straight to "Explore" if you want the combined result right away.

3. Intermediate: Labels and Comparing Species

If you're a more dedicated wildlife artist, you often need references that are more precise than just "any plant living in Indonesia". This section assumes you have a basic understanding of taxonomy.

When searching within certain geographical boundaries, there are 2 labels that might be helpful: a pink "IN" label for introduced species and a green "N" label for native species. Introduced species are often ornamental houseplants, escaped pet animals, or food species, which might suit some artwork better than others.

The search can also be refined by clicking the filter button on the right side of the page, like specifying for observations from certain months or seasons of the year, or only public domain images.

While seeing an observation, you can click on the species name above the image to be taken to the species "profile" page. On the top left of this page is a list of the species' higher classifications for you to browse through. This feature helps you find out what other species are within the same genus/family, and so on and compare the differences between each species.

This is also helpful for when the exact species you want is rare and doesn't have many observations, but a related "cousin" species is better documented online. You can learn the general anatomy and proportions from the better known species, but follow the minute details of the rarer one.

4. Advanced: Even More Detailed Searching

If the basic filtering still doesn't satisfy your needs, the site's search parameters can be further customized to narrow things down.

For example, the filter function doesn't allow filtering for insect larvae. But by adding &term_id=1&term_value_id=6 you can search for insect larvae (term id 1 refers to life stages, while term value id 6 sets the life stage to larvae). Here's the URL I bookmarked to show me all lepidopteran caterpillars: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&quality_grade=research&term_id=1&term_value_id=6

This customization is very powerful but requires a lot of hidden knowledge. I'm not sure yet what people will need to be written on this guide. So for the time being, you just need to be aware that this function exists and I'm happy to provide case-by-case help as needed.

If you specifically seek invertebrates, I have curated a collection of invertebrate photos that show rare angles or microscopic details that are rarely photographed. The photographers have kindly submitted their photos to help artists understand the animals better, so learn away!

Publicado el 04 de marzo de 2024 por franzanth franzanth | 2 comentarios | Deja un comentario

12 de diciembre de 2022

#InverteFest

The current InverteFest project is here:
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/invertefest-december-2022

What is InverteFest?
InverteFest is a periodic online event where we invite you to celebrate the overlooked invertebrate fauna around you and share the joys of discovery online.

The hashtag was conceived when @franzanth and @maureenbug went looking for bugs and slugs in Bali. @kellybrenner, stuck in Seattle, wondered if we could invite our online friends to look for bugs and slugs together in spirit, even though we’re physically far apart. Besides, what may be an everyday creature to you is often exciting to someone who lives half the world away!

When?
InverteFest happens three times a year:

  • The entire last week of December, so you could bring your family along on a critter-spotting adventure. If you hate your family, we just gave you an excuse to avoid them. You’re welcome.
  • The last weekend of April, which coincides with Northern Hemisphere spring.
  • The last weekend of August, because it’s sandwiched right between April and December.

More details: https://www.metrofieldguide.com/invertefest/

Publicado el 12 de diciembre de 2022 por franzanth franzanth | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

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Vida Silvestre es una entidad asociada a la Organización Mundial de Conservación