17 Learning Tools For Your Next Outdoor Excursion


Seek. You’ll be surprised by just how many creatures you can find, once you really begin looking. And this entertaining app from iNaturalist, an initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, encourages users to do just that. Take a photograph with your phone, or choose one from your library, and Seek will use it to instantly identify animals, plants and fungi — and applaud you if you observe a particular creature through the app for the first time. (Observations also earn you virtual badges.) During a nature walk in New York’s Central Park, this reporter snapped a photograph of something as it emerged from the underbrush and up popped a message on Seek: “You observed a new species! Brown Rat. Rattus norvegicus.” The app also noted, somewhat unsettlingly, that another 283 brown rats had been observed nearby. Moments later, after taking a photograph of a small orange-winged butterfly, Seek identified it as an eastern comma. According to the app, there were far fewer eastern commas observed in the vicinity than brown rats. Cost: free.

WWF Together. Swipe through photographs and get bite-size stats on big creatures like elephants and other endangered animals (giant pandas, tigers, sea turtles) with this app from the World Wildlife Fund. You can also learn about conservation efforts and get news about wildlife. Available for iOS only. Cost: free. (The Fund also offers a free online biodiversity tool kit to help students learn about the connections among all living things.

PictureThis. This app is terrific at identifying in real time the plants, flowers and trees you photograph. Recently, shots of a day lily, cup-plant, white wood aster, sweet gum, even trichaptum fungus on a log, were identified in less time than it took to say “I know what this is!” The app also provides additional photos, descriptions, facts, the story behind the name and the symbolism of the things you photograph, adding a touch of romanticism to the practice of plant identification. Cost: free; annual subscriptions for a premium version, which includes features such as unlimited plant identifications, are also available.

PlantSnap is another plant identification app that also allows users to take or upload photos. There’s an augmented reality option, too, so that you can just aim your phone at the plant and receive suggestions. And if you know what you’re looking at, but want to learn a little more, you can type, say, “French rose” to search the app’s plants database for details. Cost: free; premium ad-free subscriptions that include additional features, like access to botanists, are available.


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