Just because you can’t tell a Tufted Titmouse from a Coast Pignut Hickory doesn’t mean your kid has to know you’re not a walking Natural History Museum. With these bug identifier apps and other nature apps for smartphones and tablets, you can wander outdoors, day or night, and answer practically any question they have, from “What is that bright star on the horizon?” to “Is this insect that I’m putting in my mouth poisonous?” There are apps to help you identify a thousand different insects, as well as trees, birds and stars. The window of time during which your kid thinks you know everything is vanishingly thin, so leverage technology to make it last as long as possible. Because, someday soon, they’ll be all grown up and able to Google things for themselves.
These plant, animal, insect, and star identifying apps let you learn about the world around you through your phone’s camera feature or by asking you questions. Whether you need an app to tell you the name of a bug, help you identify stars and planets, or distinguish between animal tracks, there’s one to guide you. Nature apps turn screen time into an opportunity to get out into nature and learn, giving your kid the gift of having a world of information at their fingertips.
Insect Identifying Apps
How It Works: Just take a photo of the insect you wish to identify and Picture Insect will use artificial intelligence to try and match it with one of the over 1,000 species they have cataloged.
What’s Awesome: Users can share photos with each other for second opinions on what type of insect is pictured.
What’s Less Awesome: There are in-app purchases available, so keep this one away from curious little fingers.
Star and Planets Apps
How It Works: Star Walk uses your phone’s camera and GPS to identify planets, stars, comets, constellations, and even the international space station in your corner of the night sky.
What’s Awesome: When you hold your phone to the sky, Star Walk overlays a map of all the celestial objects you can see from your point of view. The map is updated in real-time as you move, and users can view 3-D maps of constellations and read about their stories. The app also updates you on upcoming celestial events that are visible from your location. There’s even a kids version for younger users.
What’s Less Awesome: There are in-app purchases, and you have to download additional packs to get information about satellites.
How It Works: Point your phone’s camera at the night sky and SkyView will determine your location via GPS and identify all the planets, constellations, stars and satellites that are currently visible.
What’s Awesome: A robust search function that helps you find things like the International Space Station, the Hubble telescope, or the Big Dipper (which, really, you should already know how to find already). It also has daily updates that point out when new things have become visible.
What’s Less Awesome: Not much — SkyView is one of the top-rated nature apps of all time in the App Store. There are some grumblings on Google Play about compatibility issues with certain phones, but it still has a 4+ rating on over 4,000 reviews.
Animal Tracks Apps
How It Works: Another app version of an old school field guide, iTrack Wildlife lets you search a database of 69 North American mammals based on some basic information about their foot, paw, or claw prints.
What’s Awesome: The nature app will not only help you identify animals based on their prints, but also on their skulls (provided you’re taking your kid to the sort of place where old animal skulls are lying around).
What’s Less Awesome: Tiered pricing means you can access a handful of species with the free “Lite” version and a handful more with the “Basic” version. The whole package is pretty spendy for an app, but do you really want to save $10 and not know you’re following a cougar until you catch up to it?
How It Works: Merlin asks you four simple questions about any bird you happen upon and delivers a small selection of potential species. Assuming you can see and/or hear it, you can quickly identify whatever it was that just pooped on you.
What’s Awesome: Merlin cross-references your answers with a massive database of bird sightings that’s maintained by thousands of hardcore bird geeks, and only suggestions species that are known to have been seen recently near your location.
What’s Less Awesome: While suggested species will include samples of their song, the nature app can’t identify a bird based on its song, which some less-free apps can.
Tree Identifying Apps
How It Works: Users have access to a registry of thousands of species of trees, which can be narrowed down by location so that users see which trees are native to their region. Users can also identify trees by answering a series of questions or consulting range maps and specie photos.
What’s Awesome: Users can submit questions and photos to experts like “Dr. Dendro”, a tree expert in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation at Virginia Tech, who will help identify tricky trees. The app is also free.
What’s Less Awesome: The app only covers trees in North America,