A few questions about annotations

It’s important to me to mark things correctly because I know that people use these annotations for things and I don’t want to mess anyone up.

Evidence of Organism: I am not sure how to annotate several things.

  • Nests, evidence of predation, galls that I’m not sure have the organism itself inside
  • Eggshells, seashells: you could argue for Bone, or Molt, or (part of) Organism
  • Leaf tracks: I have been marking these as Track, but I’m not sure that’s right?

Life Stage: Where is the line between Juvenile and Adult for amphibians? I think there are some frogs where they look like adults but keep growing for a while. Would that be counted as an adult or a juvenile? I’ve been leaving it blank because I don’t know how people sort these.

Cannot Be Determined: If there’s no way to tell what (sex/life stage/etc) something is as far as I, a non-expert, know, but an expert might know something I don’t about how to tell them apart, is it better to put Cannot Be Determined, or leave it blank?

Multiple organisms in observation which should have different annotations: There are many observations which have multiple organisms of the same species, but different life stages, sexes, etc., such as a mother wolf spider and her babies, or a male and female cardinal. What is the accepted practice for annotating these? (Edit: I know the answer is “pick one” I’m asking if there is any accepted practice for how to pick one)

Thanks :)


In my opinion, eggs and seashells are examples of organisms.

Nests, beaver dams, and other constructions currently don’t have an appropriate label. Frustrating. Call them “Constructions”?

Under Insects, Gall is an option.

You could name leaf tracks as tracks if that’s available, but I don’t think it is for plants.

Subadult amphibians are a problem. They aren’t juveniles like tadpoles, but they aren’t fully adult. I’ve started to call them adult, but I may be wrong.

I oven need life stage or sex blank because I certainly can’t tell, but maybe someone else can. I don’t know what is best.

iNaturalist doesn’t allow us to annotate for more than one individual. Most of us think iNat should. It ain’t gonna happen, though. So pick one and annotate for that. If babies are rarely photo’d maybe annotate for them.

Galls don’t need to have anything inside, or you’d use both it and “organism”.
Please don’t annotate those things that don’t have annotation, each annotation has a description, nests and other types of evidence are not presented in annotations yet.
You can’t add leaves to tracks because plants don’t have such option.
Annotations as observation are for one specimen, only if one specimen is presented on all photos, you can annotate it, or if e.g. life stage is the same on each photo.

I’d say don’t add an annotation if any of the current available values don’t fit well. Note that you can mouseover the annotation value and see what iNat’s definition of it is. Like for track, you’ll see

So it’s not a good fit for a leaf mine (whihc I assume is what you mean by “leaf track”?)

I usually leave it blank, unless I know for sure that it can’t be determined.

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Yes, be carefull with the cannot be determined part. I often encounter this annotation in spiders, where it is actually fairly easy to determine sex most of the times… but it is unfortunately not easy to correct these


In a related question, are the lines of holes sapsuckers leave in trees considered tracks?

No, only tracks fit it.

I would definitely avoid “Cannot be determined” unless the person marking it is enough of an expert to know that essentially any user cannot determine it. I would take a similar approach as for “No, it’s as good as can be” for improving the Community ID. I only use this on a small subset of species I am expert in.

For amphibians that have a tadpole stage, I think it’s fair to tick “adult” for sub adults (though there will always be some metamorphs that look halfway between tads and adults). But for direct developing amphibians without tadpoles, I probably wouldn’t tick anything unless I was an expert in the species.

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There’re options for larva, young, adult, I’d call any less-than normal sized metamorphed frogs/newts young ones, even if it can be a very small adult or some youngs can be big, it’s more about size than age (e.g. for Rana temporaria alpine toadpoles can take forever to reach a normal size and grow limbs). Have no idea which options are there for those you mention, if I knew it, today I learnt about it again, but probably they don’t need the larva to be there.

An interesting thread followed my question of when an animal becomes an adult a few weeks ago, which addresses the same topic as your amphibians life stage one: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/when-does-an-animal-become-adult/36946. It’s sometimes hard to tell, indeed.


For the sex annotation - especially for plants - non-scientists are mostly using ‘cannot be determined’ as a polite / soft option for Dunno (it’s a plant, duh :rofl: ) For a botanist it is obvious that it applies only to those taxa which have separate male and female plants - but not to most iNatters.

Or they are interpreting it as - why is iNat asking for MY gender for my obs of biodiversity?!

Maybe change the display text from a blunt Annotations to

Annotations - please only add if you are certain, if in doubt leave blank

as @Ajott said - unfortunately not easy to correct these


Oops, I’ve been using “track” to denote leaf mines, but based on this thread I should probably stop!

One thing I’ve been wondering about: should I add Life Stage info where the organism isn’t visible, but it can be inferred? For instance, leaf mines are made by the developing insect larva, as are galls, so it’s evidence that the organism was there, and was at that life stage when it was. But I suppose it could also mess up the life stage graphs by throwing off the timing, since the old evidence might be seen at any time.

Anyone have thoughts?

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If you don’t see the animal inside don’t annotate it, if you find the mine in winter it’s more than likely the animal itself is not larva already, the same way as tracks are not annotated as “live” because you only see the tracks. But check on the light if there’s something inside.

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Yes, it’s a tough question. With galls, the ID is for the insect larva, so it will show up as that species on phenology graphs no matter what, even if the gall was found in the winter. Thus “messing up” the graph. The annotation is really for the target of the observation, so I think it’s fair to annotate as a larvae here, as we know that the target of the observation (that the ID is for) was a larva. A user of that data is going to have to account for galls no matter whether they are just looking at larvae or the whole species.

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Galls also contain pupae for big part of species, as well as it could be a dead adult there. Annotations shouldn’t be a guess, gall is not equal larva.


If a certain type of gall is definitely made by a larva (for a specific species), then I think it’s fair to mark it as such as it is definitive proof that that lifestage was present. It would be similar to marking an eggshell
or eggcase as an egg or a beehive or termite mound as an adult (as only adults make those structures).
We don’t necessarily know that a gall contains/contained a pupa or adult as the larva may not have survived to pupate or adulthood - though there could be evidence for this if the gall or leafmine is opened, etc.
If there is some evidence that a gall contains a pupa or an adult it would be fair to annotate an observation of it as such.
If there’s a conflict, then the posters intent for which life stage they want to have the observation count for should be respected.

All of those depend on species specific knowledge about how the gall or leaf mine is formed by specific lifestages.

However, I think that if there is only one lifestage that forms a structure or any other type of evidence, and that evidence is allowed as an observation for the organism’s existence, then it would be fair to annotate that evidence with the lifestage that can be unequivocally known to have been present.

Evidence of organism there is a gall.

Talking about a different question, but same stuff as I’m saying, you don’t know what’s inside or if it’s even there.

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I guess I disagree a bit. The gall/leaf-mine is already allowed to be IDed as the causative organism without any evidence that that organism is currently present.

If the gall-forming or leaf-mining organism must be present and shown in an ID, then a gall shouldn’t be IDed as the organism at all (which would contradict 1000’s of observations on iNat). Forbidding annotations of galls or leafmines at a lifestage which is obligate to create the gall/leaf mine seems contradictory to me. I’m sure that there are plenty of galls/leaf mines that are not obligate for a given lifestage and those shouldn’t be IDed as such.

I’ll also note that the quote was a suggestion, not a hard and fast rule, so I think there’s room to disagree.

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Not sure about this. If I see a gall, obviously I can annotate it as ‘gall’. But it seems dubious to me to also annotate ‘larva’ just because it is proof that a larva was there once. An observation need only give evidence that the creature was there once, but surely the annotations to an observation describe the nature of the evidence. Otherwise could I not annotate a carcass as ‘alive’ because a dead carcass is evidence that a live animal was there once…? This seems the same to me as annotating a gall as ‘larva’ because it is evidence that a larva was there once. If I filter for ‘larva’ I expect to see pictures of larvae, not galls.


Yes, I’ve encountered that problem. There is a feature request to make annotations correctable.