The iNaturalist Explore Page - An Introduction

If you’re interested in searching through the millions of observations that have been posted to iNaturalist, then the Explore page (aka observations search) should be your destination. This tutorial is a quick overview of the basic tools and views available on the Explore page so you can get oriented. Below this post will be a section for more detailed tutorials.

To get to the Explore page, click on Explore in the header of just about any page of iNaturalist and it will take you to https://www.inaturalist.org/observations

By default, it shows all verifiable observations on iNaturalist in a map view:

The opacity of each colored square on the map tile is determined by the number of observations in that square; more opaque = more observations. If you zoom in on an area, you will see individual observation markers. Open the Map Legend (lower left-hand corner) for an explanation of the various markers and colors.

OK, let’s tackle one section at a time, starting with the main information bar you see here:

This displays how many observations, species, identifiers, and observers are represented by the current search parameters, and will change each with each filter you add or remove. Click on a tab to view it. For example, clicking on Identifiers displays a list of the users who have add identifications to the observations in the current set of observations.

Note that the Species tab is limited to showing only the 500 most observed species in the current observation set.

Now let’s move to the area above this and take a look the Species and Location search fields. The Species field allows you to search for a taxon in iNaturalist’s database, and the Location field lets you look at observations in a specific location.

Species is pretty straightforward: type in a taxon (either scientific or common name) and select the taxon you want to search for. For example let’s search for all flowering plants on iNaturalist. Start typing and then select the taxon:

When the taxon is selected, iNaturalist will display all verifiable observations of flowering plants (Angiospermae). Not only has the map changed, but so have the numbers on the information bar, to reflect the new taxon filter we’ve entered.

Now let’s look for all verifiable observations of flowering plants in Mexico. Type “Mexico” into the Location field and select the country. iNaturalist searches Google Maps for “Mexico” and displays a border around the country because it matches a place boundary in iNaturalist. The numbers shift as we are now only seeing verifiable observations of flowering plants in Mexico:

iNaturalist also displays a name for the current search area with an “x” next to it (see red arrow). Click on the “x” to remove the location boundary from search if you want.


OK, now that we’ve covered the two main search filters, let’s pause to look at the display options for the Observations tab. So far we have been using the Map view, but if you take a look on the left-hand side, you’ll see two other options: Grid and List, which show observations as a grid of images or as a more detailed list, respectively. You choice of view here is “sticky”, meaning that Explore will show you the last view option you used, even if you logged out of the site.

Check them out for a moment, then return to the map view.


And back to search filters. Let’s take a quick look at the remaining search options by clicking “Filters” and then “more Filters”. You should see this:

As noted above, “Verifiable” is checked by default, and you’ll see that “Mexico” is already filled in for Place. You can now add or remove filters, such as various date, person, and project filters, as well as show only observations which have photos, only observations which have sounds, etc.

Let’s add another filter here by choosing to see only the verifiable observations of flowering plants in Mexico seen on April 17, 2020.

Click “Update Search” or just close the Filters box and iNaturalist will display those observations:

Note the green “1” displayed on the Filters box, showing that the date filter has been added.

You can add or remove more filters if you wish to obtain a different set of observations.

Finally, there are three options at the bottom of the Filters menu: Identify, Atom, and Download:

Clicking on Identify will take you to the iNaturalist Identify page and will display the observations from your current search - by default it will show you the observations which you have not reviewed and which have the quality grade Needs ID.

Clicking on Atom will create an RSS file based on your current search filters.

Clicking on Download will take you to an export page where you can download a CSV document based on the current set of observations. CSV documents can be opened by spreadsheet and other data analysis software.


And that’s about it for an introduction! Please play around with the various filters and settings, and start explore the wealth of biodiversity on iNat.

If you want to take a deeper dive, a good place to start is this tutorial, which goes over the various URL hacks you can use to expand Explore’s functionality.

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There are so many ways to use the Explore page and a lot of experience here on the forum. This post is a wiki, and if you’re so inclined, please make a tutorial for Explore then link to it here!

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