For some, becoming a scientist takes years of academic training, expensive equipment, and countless late nights hard at work. For others, becoming a scientist could be a walk in the park… literally! Across the globe, people everywhere are participating in citizen science. Citizen science refers to research projects that enlist large groups of non-experts to collect data on a wide range of subjects. These collaborations allow professional scientists to collect enormous amounts of data from all over the world, and give people of all ages opportunities to explore nature and the scientific process in new ways.
Whether you want to get muddy with friends looking for frogs near a local creek or identify birds from your kitchen window, the variety of citizen science opportunities makes it easy to find one that fits your style.
Here are five citizen science projects we think you and your family will love!
- Study amphibian populations with Frog Watch USA
This citizen science project trains volunteers to identify the calls of frogs and toads before sending them out to collect data during breeding season. Amphibians are important indicators of environmental health, and studying frog populations across the country can help scientists understand what is happening in our wetlands. Frog Watch is coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and currently has more than 140 chapters. You can get involved through your local chapter, or by attending a volunteer training.
- Listen to marine mammal songs with the Cetalingua Project
Are you interested in helping scientists decode dolphin language? Through the Cetalingua Project’s Whale, Dolphin, and Manatee Chat tools, you can help scientists classify marine mammal recordings. After completing a tutorial, your job is to listen to ten-second clips recorded under the ocean, and determine whether the clip contains a marine mammal, nothing, or a boat.
- Identify spiders with Spider Spotter
If you’re into spiders, this is the app for you. Spider Spotter helps you classify arachnids and their webs and allows you to upload pictures of your observations. With the map feature, you can explore the spider observations of those around you as well! Biologists are using this citizen-generated data to study how spider species are evolving for life in urban habitats.
- Go on a virtual safari to Botswana with Leopard Ecology & Conservation
Wildlife ecologists often utilize motion-activated camera traps to study the movement and behavior of animals, especially elusive species like large carnivores. This project gives you access to photos collected from the Khutse Game Reserve in Botswana. After completing a short training, you can help the ecologists by identifying animals and behaviors seen in the images.
- Go birding!
Birds are some of the most charismatic and ubiquitous animals in cities and towns. Grab some binoculars and go out exploring, or simply watch from a window. Apps like Audubon or Merlin Bird ID can help you identify species based on their appearance or call, and keep track of your sightings. You can use eBird or iNaturalist to log sightings as well. If you get really into birding, you can even join the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count, a citizen science project that has been happening for 121 years! Many scientists studying a variety of subjects access these data sets to inform their research, so your observations can provide valuable information as conservationists work to understand and protect the natural world.
Still looking for a citizen science project that is right for you? Check out citizen science projects offered by NASA, Smithsonian, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Zooniverse. Happy Sciencing!
Wilson Sherman is an interdisciplinary researcher interested in how communities of people and animals learn to share space. He currently works as the Community Engagement and Collaborative Research Fellow at the Oakland Zoo, and holds a B.S. in Conservation & Resource Studies and a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley.