10 Great SciComm Twitter Games To Brighten Your Quarantine

This month, in line with Global Citizen Science Month, we’ll have a special focus on all things citizen science. For those of you who are unaware of the concept, it’s an initiative by SciStarter and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University, with support from the Citizen Science Association and National Geographic.

For those who haven’t heard the term before, citizen (or community) science is essentially an all-encompassing term for scientific research and learning that is conducted outside of traditional spheres. It can encompass anything, from your kid collecting bugs in traps in the backyard, to global apps like iNaturalist. While Caitlin will have an in-depth overview of exactly what citizen science entails next Monday, we’ll kick the month off by looking at revolutionary technology that has allowed non-scientists to participate in scientific research worldwide – social media.

Specifically Twitter. One of the most enjoyable things about Twitter’s scientific community has been the advent of SciComm games. These are (often weekly) posts by scientists from different fields, which ask fellow Twittererers to identify, find or pick apart different aspects of an ecosystem. They’re a great introduction to taxonomy and field identification, and they’re super-easy to get involved in.

So below I’ve listed (with the help of Twitter) 10 of the most fun Twitter games out there.

1. #DamOrNot by Steph Januchowksi-Hartley (aka. @ConnectedWaters)

I’m kicking things off with the only non-animal ID on here. Steph is a freshwater ecologist who I had the chance to work with in the early stages of my PhD. The project we worked on looked at the impact of river connectivity of fish populations, and #DamOrNot was a real eye-opener in terms of how innocent looking structures can separate entire populations. Every Tuesday, Steph posts photos of anything from piles of sticks to massive aerial shots, and asks the audience to guess whether or not they qualify as a dam.

2. #KnockKnockWhosBear by Danielle Rivet (aka. @grizzlygirl87

Bears have been particularly lucky on social media, with the Katmai National Park’s Fat Bear Week having enjoyed a lot of popularity (seriously, check out the chonk). Danielle studies polar bears as part of her PhD thesis, and posts shots of different bears every Tuesday, from which you need to guess how many humans it has eaten in recorded history the species.

3. #WhosePoo by Emily Williams (aka. @wayfaringwilly) and #NameThatTrack by Lisa Buckley (aka. @Lisavipes)

Yes, that first one involves poo. Emily claims to have an affinity for it. She works for the US National Park Service, studying bird movement. The aim here is to guess the creature based on the droppings it leaves. Similarly, Lisa Buckley’s game asks you to guess the animal based on the footprints. 

4. ALL THE BIRD ONES

I’m really sorry birders, but there are just too many of you, so I’ve compiled all the bird-based games into one. Alex Evans (@alexevans91) has recently started #GuessTheCrest, whereby you guess the bird based on a photo of the animal’s neck and crest. Kaeli Swift (@corvidresearch) hosts #CrowOrNo, where participants guess whether or not the bird is a species of crow. And Jason Ward (@JasonWardNY), host of web TV series (which we all need right now) Birds of North America, also hosts #TrickyBirdID.

5. #CameraTrapQuiz and #MondayMammalFact by the MammalWeb Project

If you haven’t already checked out my recent article on the MammalWeb project, click the link below. It’s an amazing citizen science initiative, and PhD candidate Sammy Mason, who brings MammalWeb to schools all over the UK, is brilliant. Their weekly camera trap quiz presents a shot from one of their many camera traps set up around Britain and asks participants to ID the animal.

Bringing Wild Mammals to the Classroom: The MammalWeb Program

6. #CougarOrNot by Michelle LaRue (aka. @drmichellelarue)

So full disclosure, I never get #CrowOrNo. Crows are sneaky bastards. But when I came across #CougarOrNot, I figured it would be easy. Cougars are kind of obvious, right? Then I misidentified a house cat as a cougar and spent 5 minutes making my partner look at a lynx butt (see below). This is good is what I’m saying. Michelle studies penguins and seals as well. I envy the charisma of her megafauna.

7. #FindThatLizard by Earyn McGee (aka @Afro_Herper)

If you grew up playing Where’s Wally (or Waldo apparently in the US), you’ll love this one. Earyn McGee posts shots of lizards, which are unfortunately not dressed in red and white sweaters and therefore infinitely harder to find than some goofy idiot with a beanie on at the beach.

8. #FemaleOrMale by the @HyenaProject

You’d think this would be easy, but hyenas are weirder than we give them credit for. See below. The Hyena Project actually attaches a manual for sexing spotted hyenas to most of their posts.

9. #StreetCreatures by @KellyBrenner

This one is kind of unique. Every Friday Kelly give you four terms, which could be anything from a random number to the name of your high school sweetheart (probably not that though), and you have to guess the city-based species. On another note, Kelly has just today released her book Nature Obscura, a look at the wildlife that hides out in urban areas.

10.  #GuessTheSkull by @Yara_Haridy

I learned about this one most recently, and I love it. You get shown a photo of a skull, and have to guess the species. The first time I was ever asked to identify a skull was in an animal physiology class (a subject I hated). They told us it was a herbivore. It was definitely a bear. I’d forgotten about the existence of pandas. Yara, who is the sole paleontologist on this list, recently won a grant to run workshops on my second favourite type of evolution, dinosaurs to birds. You can see here below holding a large chicken.

So that’s it for now. Did I miss anyone? Let me know. In the meantime, enjoy your new Twitter game funtime, and stay safe throughout the coming months.

Title Image Credit: pxfuel, CC0 1.0, Image Cropped

Sam Perrin is a freshwater ecologist currently completing his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who is being annoyingly productive during quarantine and wonders why it took him a global pandemic to get his PhD back on track. You can read more about his research on his Ecology for the Masses profile here, and follow him on Twitter here.

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