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If you’ve ever wondered what kinds of plants and animals you’re seeing on hikes or around your neighborhood, a new app could be the answer. The Seek app helps you to identify flora and fauna using your phone, making it a fun way to connect with the natural world.
The Seek app (free on iOS), developed by iNaturalist, combines the gamification and collection aspects of Pokémon Go with exploration of the natural world. It works like this: The app uses your general location to populate a list of plants and animals you’re likely to encounter in the area, and each plant and animal listing in the app also includes photos and useful facts. You can then snap photos of those species as you come across them, adding them to your virtual collection in the app.
If you spot something the app hasn’t suggested, you can snap a photo of that, too, and Seek will try to identify it for you. It’s useful, say, if a bird has flown off course from its typical migration route, so it’s not something you’d normally find in your neck of the woods. Seek uses image recognition to check whether a critter you photograph matches the species you think it is, and according to its first few reviews, it does a fairly good job of the task.
As for the gaming aspect, as you snap photos of amphibians, birds, and plants you’ll also earn badges for your activities.
The app, which doesn’t require your email or any sort of registration information, includes a warning after you first download the app to ensure you don’t do anything unwise in your quest for badges. This includes things like not to trespass, harass wildlife, or eat anything you find in the wild.
Seek touts itself as a way for families to get more involved in nature, but it seems useful for anyone who’s curious to learn more about the plant and animal life hiding in plain sight.
You can download it on iOS here.
Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.