A Family Becomes Citizen Scientists

Join the Virtual Spring BioBlitz! and go on a nature scavenger hunt!

Henbit Field Mak

It all started with a question. What is that purple flower I see carpeting my neighbors yard? When I first moved to Oklahoma I thought it was crocuses, that delightful bulb that is the harbinger of spring. But this plant grew like a carpet, and crocuses sprout up in fields of grass, ephemeral and in small clusters.

Maybe it was violets? Those flowers can carpet the earth. I remembered seeing them grow like that at the base of a tree in my childhood home in Connecticut. Reassured with my nature knowledge and skills of flower identification from the vantage point of driving in my car, I moved on.

The next time I saw the flowers was on an evening stroll. This time, close up I could tell they were not violets. Violet flowers are large, their leaves are shaped like hearts, and these flowers leaves appeared like ruffles intermittently traveling up the stalk. The flowers were long, tube like and shot up from the top. They looked festive like firecrackers, unlike the sweet, hidden magic quality of a violet.

Crocus Mak Violet Mak

Crocus (left) and Violet flowers

What is a Citizen Scientist?

These are the questions and thoughts that come into your brain when you become a citizen scientist. A citizen scientist is a person interested in science, collaborating with scientists on projects. It is also, in my opinion, a person who wants to know about the world. A person who is interested in all life forms and is curious about their surroundings. Citizen scientists are ready and eager to learn new things and humble in the fact that they don’t know everything.

BioBlitz! Oklahoma

Last October, my family and I attended BioBlitz! Oklahoma. A BioBlitz! is an intense period of biological surveying where scientists and citizen scientists come together and attempt to document all the living things in a specific area in a 24-hour period. I wrote all about it for TulsaKids in this post.

Snake Mak


Going to the Blitz made us all more excited about being citizen scientists. In this very uncertain and scary time in our society, the best place to turn to for solace is nature. Even if you don’t consider yourself an outdoors person, this is the time to get out there and learn how to be one. All the new, fresh, beautiful spring activities are at your fingertips, when little else is. Each week brings a new blossom, leaf or animal. From the songbird’s migration back from the south, to the tree frogs beginning to chirp in your neighborhood trees, this is the time when nature will heal us.

It is important to go outside for a walk every day and take in the beauty, light, sound and color of nature. However, if you’re looking to do some learning on your jaunts around the neighborhood and, as many of us are now, homeschooling your children, this is a great time to take up the mantle of becoming a citizen scientist.

Register for Virtual Spring BioBlitz!

A great way to start this process is joining the free virtual spring BioBlitz! Starting April 1 and continuing to May 1, Bioblitz! is offering a unique chance to be a part of the documentation of the nature in your own backyard. To join the Blitz!, just create an account with iNaturalist. Then join the “Virtual Spring BioBlitz! Oklahoma 2020” project.

Each day, there will be prompts to find something in your neighborhood or backyard. No need to go off into the woods, most of the nature they instruct you to document is at your fingertips. You then virtually document your findings. There are prizes and informative resources for both novices and those with experience identifying nature.

The First Challenge is to join the project and make at least 10 observations of 10 different organisms on April 1! Everyone who completes this challenge will earn a Virtual BioBlitz! Citizen Science Holographic Sticker!

Maple Seed Mak

Maple seeds

Finding Answers

I asked my family to elicit their help in finding out what the purple, not-violet-or-crocus flower was. My oldest daughter reminded me to use my smart phone. I have several apps to help me identify all the cool plants and animals I see. I took an observation photo in the iNaturalist app. Then, I hit the “what did you see, view suggestions” button. The app immediately gave me a list of possibilities that included my answer. Henbit is the name of the flower, lamium amplexicaule in Latin.

The flower is in the mint family and is edible if picked in a safe location, not near roads or where people have sprayed lawn chemicals. They call it Henbit because hens like to eat it. It is an important flower for the early awakening bees and other pollinators as well as one way to control erosion. It grows like a carpet and can hold soil in place with its net like root structure. Identifying henbit was the answer to a question that I had pondered for months.

Henbit Flower Mak

Henbit flowers

We continued on our walk and slipped past many plant and animal familiars, including dandelion, garden tulips, a fox squirrel, robins and a downy woodpecker. I would not know the names of all these species had I not become a citizen scientist. My daughters ran ahead of me, plucking clovers from the ground and gathering up maple helicopter seeds to twirl in the air and watch them fly. Feeling connected to the natural environment with my family makes us all feel complete. It is a way to feel grounded in turbulent times and a way to open your world of exploration within the microcosm of your own neighborhood. I encourage us all to become citizen scientists during this tumultuous time.

“Neighborhood Naturalist” Scavenger Hunt

For more opportunities to learn about the nature that surrounds us daily, please download the pdf “Neighborhood Naturalist” Scavenger Hunt by Under The Canopy.

I hope to see you at the virtual spring BioBlitz!

About Margaritte Arthrell-Knezek

Margaritte Arthrell-Knezek is a naturalist, writer and community educator committed to teaching the skills of sustainability and instructing children and adults on how to connect with the natural world that surrounds them daily. Arthrell-Knezek hails from New Haven, Connecticut where she began her work in the arts and environmental activism in 1997.

She graduated from The Evergreen State College In Olympia WA, 2010, with a bachelor’s degree in multi-media art and sustainability studies. She has traveled the world and landed in Tulsa, OK, where she is the Executive Director and Lead Educator of Under The Canopy LLC. Margaritte is a parent to two awesome children and wife to Mykey Arthrell-Knezek.

You can learn more about the programs she teaches at www.underthecanopy.org She is a regular contributor to TulsaKids.com and also keeps a personal blog about parenting in all its real and messy forms called Tap the Root. She was also published in Hilary Frank’s 2019 book, “Weird Parenting Wins.”

Citizen Scientist Pin

Categories: Fun For Kids