Science & Tech

Citizen to scientist: Six apps that can help you make a difference

Whether you’re monitoring monarchs or searching for snakes, these mobile apps will allow you to become a scientist right from your backyard

  • Jun 20, 2022
  • 697 words
  • 3 minutes
Using apps like iNaturalist is easy, all you need is access to a tablet or mobile device and some plants or animals to photograph. (Photo: Madigan Cotterill/Can Geo)
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Imagine this: You’re sitting in a garden and notice a bumble bee collecting pollen from a nearby flower. Admiring its beauty, you pick up your phone and snap a quick picture before it flies away. Then you notice a cardinal singing in a nearby tree and take a picture of the bird as well. Now you have these great photos to share but want to do more than just post them to Instagram. So what do you do? You post them to one of the many citizen science apps available to the public. Not only will your images help scientists with data collection, but they will also connect you to a larger community that shares the belief that each of us can make a difference.

Today’s advanced technology allows you to transform your smartphone or computer into a digital notepad to help scientists across the country. From recording bird songs to taking photographs of plants around your neighbourhood, there are many ways to become a citizen scientist. All you have to do is observe and input your data.



Spread through the bite of an infected tick, Lyme disease is a serious illness that can affect both animals and humans across the country. Typically found in wooded and grassy areas, ticks like to stay in moist, shady places where they can latch onto passing deer, rabbits, birds and mice. Although ticks are mostly found in places with tall grass, they can sometimes be found in urban areas as well as on beaches and in coastal areas. To help monitor ticks, eTick is a citizen science project that encourages users to submit tick images for identification by a professional. The data collected is then used to map where the ticks are.


Beginning with the simple idea that every birdwatcher has unique knowledge, eBird was started to help users locate more birds, keep track of photos and explore sightings from around the world. This mobile app makes it easy to record birds seen in the field while also linking these observations with a global online database. Information submitted to eBird also provides scientists and researchers with real-time data that can be used to monitor species populations and track migrations. Each year, eBird gathers more than 100 million bird sightings. Users can record and save checklists, store photos and even record audio. You can also search for birding hotspots in your area and sign up for rare bird alerts.

You can create an account for apps like iNaturalist in a few simple steps and begin uploading images right away. (Photo: Madigan Cotterill/Can Geo)
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Are you a nature lover looking to get to know more about the flora and fauna in your area? Check out iNaturalist, one of the world’s most popular nature apps. With more than five million people already signed up, this app allows you to share your findings and discuss your observations with others. Each observation contributes to biodiversity science by adding data to repositories like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. Along with recording observations of the species around you, iNaturalist also assists with identification and enables users to collaborate on specific projects. To help scientists across the world, all you need to do is observe.

Bumble Bee Watch:

Bumble bees can be found across Canada. They also face many threats, including pesticide use, habitat loss, disease and climate change. The Bumble Bee Watch app enables users to track and conserve bumble bees by uploading images and sharing information that helps  researchers with their conservation efforts. Users can also learn more about bumble bees and read about ongoing conservation projects.

Journey North:

Monarch butterflies are one of the most well-known species of butterfly, making them a perfect subject for citizen science. Over the years, monarch numbers have faced a serious decline and help is needed to monitor this iconic species. Since 1994, Journey North has been  monitoring the monarch migration by crowdsourcing observations online. The public can submit monarch sightings, which, in turn, allows researchers to better map patterns of migration year to year.

With so many different citizen science projects available, there’s sure to be one of interest for every budding naturalist. Now, everyone can explore what nature has to offer, while also helping scientists to preserve it.


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