Spies, Like You

Photo credit Gilles Gonthier via Wikimedia Commons

Although we tend to think of cities as the exclusive habitats of humans, there is an astonishing amount of urbanized wildlife living in both the concrete canyons and the greenbelts. Unfortunately, we don't understand a lot about these critters. Where do they live? What species? How do they interact with humans? How have they adapted? How are they competing?

A new joint project of the Adler Planetarium, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Zooniverse is called ChicagoWildlifeWatch, and it is designed to start answering some of those questions. Lincoln Park Zoo's Urban Wildlife Institute set up monitoring stations within parks, preserves, golf courses, and cemeteries in four counties including downtown Chicago. These stations, consisting of motion-triggered cameras at 100 sites, have produced thousands of candid images of animals going about their daily business. These photos are now online, and like a private eye or spy, you can check them out and identify what you see.

To participate, you simply need to register at the link at the top of the ChicagoWildlifeWatch site, and then click the Classify button. You'll be shown images on the left, and asked to identify the creatures you see by picking from a list on the right. You will also be asked how many you see, and what sort of behaviour they might be displaying (e.g., head up, head down). If you're not sure you could tell a grey squirrel from a flying squirrel, don't panic: the same images will be shown to all participants several times, so misidentifications will be weeded out via redundancy. Do take your time, though, because the animals are sometimes hard to spot against the background.

Oh, and one final note for the teachers: there is supporting material for this project at a site called Zooteach, so you will be able to incorporate it right into your lessons. Enjoy!

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Chandra Clarke is a Webby Honoree-winning blogger, a successful entrepreneur, and an author. Her book Be the Change: Saving the World with Citizen Science is available at Amazon. You can connect with her on Twitter @chandraclarke.