Highlights from Wellington’s City Nature Challenge 2021

Highlights from Wellington’s City Nature Challenge 2021

How many species of plants and animals do you think you could find in only four days? This year Wellington participants in the iNaturalist City Nature Challenge found 1537 species! Our Researcher Lara Shepherd and Curator Botany Leon Perrie summarise what was discovered.

iNaturalist is a citizen science platform to connect people with their local biodiversity whilst also generating useful data for scientists. The iNaturalist City Nature Challenge is an annual competition to see which city can record the most observations, species, and participants during the four days from 30 April to 3 May. Over 400 cities worldwide entered this year, with Wellington entering for the first time.

Wellington had 135 people participating, and they made 7463 observations of 1537 species. Impressively this is about 40% of the around 3900 species that have ever been recorded within the Wellington City Council boundary on iNaturalist.

Map of observations of taken during the 2021 iNaturalist Wellington taken during the City Nature Challenge.
Map of the observations taken in Wellington during the iNaturalist City Nature Challenge. Image via iNaturalist

Most observed species

The top six most-observed species were plants, and over half of the total observations were of plants. This is probably because they are easy to photograph.

Pie chart of the species seen during the iNaturalist City Challenge in Wellington.
Pie chart of the species seen during the iNaturalist City Challenge in Wellington. Image via iNaturalist

Most observed invertebrate – garden orb web spider (Eriophora pustulosa)

This small spider is indigenous to Australia and New Zealand, and makes classic circular cobwebs. Garden orb web spiders can be a variety of colours, but most are brown or grey.

Garden orb web spider (Eriophora pustulosa). Photo by jeanro, 2021, via iNaturalist CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Most observed bird – tūī (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae)

Tūī, one of our loudest native birds, were uncommon in Wellington 30 years ago. Kererū, another bird that has become much more common in Wellington in recent years, was not far behind tūī in the observation tally.

Tūī (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae). Photo by kiwihunter, 2021, via iNaturalist. CC-BY-NC 4.0

Most observed plant – kawakawa (Piper excelsum)

This small native tree can be common in lowland forests. Its distinctive heart-shaped leaves are often full of holes made by the kawakawa looper caterpillar (Cleora scriptaria). Kawakawa is an important medicinal plant for rongoā Māori (traditional healing practices).

Kawakawa (Piper excelsum). Photo by jeanro, 2021, via iNaturalist. CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

Most observed fungus – fly agaric (Amanita muscaria)

The fly agaric is unlikely to be the most common fungus in Wellington but it is certainly one of the most distinctive. This poisonous mushroom is native to the Northern Hemisphere but has been introduced to several countries including New Zealand. It typically grows under exotic trees, such as pines.

Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria). Photo by wild_wind, 2021, via iNaturalist. CC-BY 4.0

Threatened species

A number of threatened species were observed in Wellington during the City Nature Challenge. A selection is shown below.

New records on iNaturalist for Wellington

Several species were recorded on iNaturalist for the first time in Wellington City during the City Nature Challenge, you can see some of them here:

Other interesting finds:

Amazing photography

Wellington has some very talented photographers. Some of our favourite photos are here:

Thank you to everyone who made observations and the experts who spent long hours identifying species. Congratulations to Christchurch for recording the most observations and species in New Zealand, and Auckland for having the most observers.

Further reading


  1. Great blog. Thanks for the comments incl on the photos. Note however that the New Zealand grass skink (Oligosoma polychroma) in the “Amazing photography” section was located and posted to iNaturalist by @kiwihunter but the photo is by LF who was passing – @kiwihunter didn’t have a camera in hand (as noted on the iNaturalist obs).

    1. Author

      Thank you for bringing this to our attention kiwihunter42 – it has now been corrected. And please congratulate LF on their fantastic photo!

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