Texas’ landowners, land managers, and outdoor enthusiasts always have their eyes and ears on Texas wildlife. But even if the time you spend in nature is just walking your kids to school, you will probably be lucky enough to see wildlife at some point in your day. Depending on where you live – urban or rural, Panhandle or Valley, Trans-Pecos or Piney Woods – common species that you typically see might include fox squirrels, mourning doves, or green anoles. Every so often though, you might see something… different!
If you spot an animal that you haven’t seen in your area before, or if you see an interesting behavior, you might want to share or document your observation. The best way to share what you’ve seen is to get a picture! Pictures are invaluable for identification and cataloging data. Next, head to inaturalist.org. iNaturalist is an online database with observations of all kinds of life, from deer to snails to bluebonnets. You can create a free account and then upload your picture, along with other information like date, time, and location of the observation. If you know what the animal is, you can enter the species, but if not, you can leave that field blank. All observations are checked by other naturalists, so you can get help identifying an unknown species.
Once your observation is submitted, the data are publicly available (location can be kept private, if you choose). Scientists can then use this information to study population trends, range expansions, and other research questions. This is the best way to make your data available to researchers. At any given time, a particular sighting might not be useful if no one is studying that species. But when you document your observation in a database like iNaturalist, the data are preserved for future studies.
If you didn’t get a picture, but the animal you saw was a bird and you can identify it, another option to record your data is ebird.org. Like iNaturalist, you can create a free account on eBird and enter your observation. eBird is primarily intended to report birding activities, meaning that you went for a walk or took a drive with the purpose of finding and identifying birds. However, you can also enter single observations that will then be preserved in a database.
Thank you to all who are interested in contributing to wildlife science!
To learn about another way you can be part of wildlife research, check out this article about AgriLife’s new Wildlife Disease Ecologist who needs your help collecting ticks!