Earth Day can make you go a little wild. Take the City Nature Challenge, which a few years ago began as a science smackdown between the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences. “We thought, let’s capitalize on that longstanding rivalry between our two cities,” said Lila Higgins, co-founder of the challenge and community science manager at the L.A. museum.
The rules were simple: Urge residents to scour the urban core to photograph as many wild bugs, birds and critters as they could find. The city with the most species and sightings wins. L.A. came in first in 2015; San Francisco swept the field last year.
This year there’s a lot more competition. Between April 26 and 29, citizen scientists (people like you and me) in Tokyo, London, Nairobi and 150 other cities around the world will compete in the 2019 challenge.
You don’t need any experience to help L.A. win. Start by taking pictures of wild plants, animals, any living thing during the four-day period with your phone, tablet or camera. The key here is wild: Dad and the family dog don’t count; coyote poop, a bone or skull of an animal, and even roadkill do. You don’t have to identify the species, but you do have to note the date and place you took photos by uploading them on the free iNaturalist app.
Los Angeles County is a perfect hunting ground, Higgins said, because it’s one of 36 biodiversity hot spots in the world, meaning there are at least 1,500 endemic plants that thrive even though 75% of their habitat has been destroyed.
Angelenos can look for wild species in their own backyard, including the tide pools of South Bay beaches, city parks in the L.A. Basin and the mountains in the Angeles National Forest. Past challenges included rare finds, such as the Avalon Island snail (Micrarionta beatula) on Santa Catalina Island and the Shoulderbands snail (Helminthoglypta traskii), local species considered critically imperiled.
Aside from the competition, you’ll also be contributing to scientific data in your hometown. “You don’t need to go to Madagascar to see amazing wild animals and plants,” Higgins said. “Study nature in the city of L.A.”
City Nature Challenge
When: Between April 26 and 29
Events: Free, but register in advance
►10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 27, City Nature Challenge 2019 at Devil's Punchbowl in Pearblossom (bit.ly/devilspunchbowlchallenge)
►10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 30, identification party with staff at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (bit.ly/museumIDparty)
Download the app: inaturalist.org