Add captions to default taxon photos

Ken-ichi recently said in an interview for Flora “I don’t think [iNaturalist] is currently creating a lot of converts or new naturalists… My standard is: Did you really learn a name or did you just look at the screen?”

iNaturalist pattern recognition is game changing for me – I point my phone at everything to learn about it. But the answer set is not completely satisfying. I would love to see captions under your example photos that point out specific characteristics that the photo is illustrating. Words can focus our attention to what’s significant about the photo, and the photo illustrates a real-world example of what the words are describing.

My site,, is designed for curious people who want to learn about California plants found in the wild. I use illustrated ID tips that I think will make sense to people who stop to read park signs; people who are curious but do not have a botanical background.

For instance, if I do an iNat observation of a blue and white lupine in Edgewood Preserve in San Mateo, I get back three locally observed choices – Lupinus bicolor, albifrons and succulentus. Their pictures look sort of similar unless you have experience in what to look for. However, if we add captions that say that bicolor only grows to a foot or so, that albifrons has a woody stem, and that succulentus has leaflets that are large and wider near the tip, our user can make an obvious choice, and learns significant characteristics to look for in the future.

How do we get there from here? I’m thinking that adding optional captions to your taxon photos would not be difficult technically. Then we could start experimenting – perhaps the people who select the photos to show on your taxon pages could try writing ID tips and request feedback on what types of descriptions are most useful. Once you have an illustrated ID tip approach that you like, you might be able to scale it a couple of ways – perhaps Wikipedia would like to allow their authors to add illustrated ID tips to their plant articles. Perhaps Cal Academy or CNPS would like to approach this as an e-publishing opportunity.

I’ve spent the past 7 years building as a retirement project. I’m doing it because I’m frustrated with the lack of tools that let me learn about the world around me. I’m a programmer, not a botany guy, so I’m a perfect representative of the millions of people who are under-served by picture-poor books, and big-data approaches that don’t meet me where I am and bring me where I want to go.

I’d love to be an unpaid member of your team that’s working on “Investigate ways to capture comments and ID remarks that are useful for making identifications…”

Below is an example of illustrated ID tips from’s Muir Woods guide at []

I took a stab at rewriting your feature request title to match the contents of the request, but please feel free to modify if what I proposed isn’t what you meant.


Everything on Wikipedia needs a reputable source, so if you want to add captions there to photos with ID tips from a published field guide, paper, or similar, please do!

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Others (including me) have also wished for a way to annotate on photos, for that matter on any observation it could be useful for the user or others to do so. INat is open source so if you’re a programmer you could take a stab at it maybe (not sure exactly how that works)


Many smartphone photo apps now will allow “markup” including text (and of course cropping too). So there’s a lot that can be done with a photo before submitting it to iNat. I think if people do this others will see it and follow suit. That’s not the same as a long caption, but it can be a big help.

One issue with this is that those marks are permanent parts of the image, and the image will be used to train our computer vision ID model.

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Also I find it annoying and difficult to edit photos in the field and would like to on the website later.

Didn’t realize that, @tiwane, thanks

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Your title is great - thanks!

Thanks for this idea, bouteloua. I’m not sure the following belongs in this forum, but I’m hoping to learn how to pursue your idea of “add captions [in WIkipedia] with ID tips from a published field guide…”. Can you give me advice on the following sorts of beginner Wikipedia questions?

Do you think it would work to add photos illustrating field characteristics that Wikipedia has already accepted in its article? Is there a way for me to suggest new ID tips for someone else in the Wikipedia community to adopt? Are there mentors for helping get people plugged into the adding content to Wikipedia?

If this discussion belongs off the forum, please feel welcome to contact me at or 650 759 2996.

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Hi @brucehs, I started a new topic about Wikipedia & iNaturalist here:

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One of our ideas was to create Wikipedia articles that include illustrated ID tips, potentially useful to iNaturalist users. This has the advantage that the Wikipedia community will review, correct, and improve these illustrated descriptions without requiring iNaturalist programming or iNaturalist user effort.

I’ve created an example of this kind of Wikipedia article at that includes illustrated ID tips that I think would be useful to iNaturalist users.

It is photo-oriented, with plenty of useful ID tips in the captions and descriptions. I put in a subtitle of “Illustrated ID Tips” right above the good stuff, which we might want to use as a convention to point iNaturalist at the most useful part of the content.

Does this approach look appealing to you?


That’s good content, of a kind I really want to be able to add to iNaturalist taxon pages. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have been automatically included on the iNat taxon page for Crepis vesicaria taraxacifolia. Maybe that’s something a curator can do? Edit: someone did it. Thanks, whoever you are!

I’m uncertain whether or not Wikipedia editors will permit this kind of content ( Just to be clear, I think they should permit this kind of content, and I’m certainly not going to draw the attention of any editors to this article, but I suspect some will argue your content should be deleted because it “isn’t verifiable” or is a synthesis of existing material and is therefore original research. This is one reason why I’ve been pushing for an iNaturalist-controlled wiki, where we could add unpublished ID tips without having to worry about deletion backed up by a site-wide policy.


Personally I don’t think we should use Wikipedia for this as part of an iNat community project. Of course I am not telling people not to add things to Wikipedia, and Wikipedia is a great thing I use often, but I think it’s better to either keep any ID tips within iNat so it is part of our community and not some bigger or different one… or else create some kind of parallel species ID wiki which sounds like a neat project but probably something none of us have time for. So yeah, i agree with @Jeremyhussell that an inat controlled Wiki is best. But maybe out of scope for the devs.


Wikipedia policies specifically state it is not a guide.,_guidebook,_textbook,_or_scientific_journal

So I suspect if found, content of this nature would be removed.


Detailed description of morphology is a key part of taxon pages on Wikipedia. The main related points are to a) ensure the information you are adding is referenced from a reliable source and b) phrase the content in such a way that is not

If you want to identify suchnsuch, measure the leaf and look at the edges. If the leaf is over 9 cm and the edges are wavy, it’s a suchnsuch.[some person told me on iNaturalist]

but rather

Suchnsuch has broad leaves 9–15 cm in width with wavy edges.[reliable reference]

@brucehs I made a few edits to your example taxon page and photo captions in Wikipedia if you want to take a look. Oh, and please feel free to shoot me a message here or via email ( if you have other questions about Wikipedia. Happy to help.


I just read the section you suggested, and I think we may be able to add illustrations and captions to articles on plants without being accused of making a guide book. We’re adding useful content to types of pages that are already encouraged.

I’ve had lots of useful edits on the Wikipedia page referred to above, including some that affect the size of photos, but nobody is saying my content doesn’t belong.

Thanks for including the link to my Wikipedia article from your taxon page. I note that it is out of date (I’ve added more illustrated tips). Do your links automatically update from time to time?

Verification is a big deal at Wikipedia. Luckily there are a lot of good citable sources for ID tips like the Jepson EFlora. We just need to do a good job of translating from precise botanical terms to accurate everyday English.

Validating photos is harder, but not impossible. At, we use photographers and illustrators with a strong reputation, such as Neil Kramer, John Muir Laws, Keir Morse, etc. Another approach is to use evidence from local keys and have a local expert confirm the ID. If we’re careful to introduce well-documented ID photos, I’m hoping nobody will be called on to slap us on the wrist. Another way to get approved photos into our Wikipedia descriptions is to choose photos already posted to Wikimedia. For my phyllary article (still in draft form) I was able to use all pre-existing Wikimedia images.

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Thank you! I’ve gotten lots of edits to this article, and I’m pleased how it’s turning out.

Here are three specific ideas for adding captions to taxon photos. I’m not sure if these belong in 3 posts or one, but I’ll summarize them here.

  1. Allow any logged in user to add an ID tip (proposed caption) to any photo from the taxon page.

    a. I really like associating ID tips with photos. The combination of words and images is much more effective than either by itself. I think the natural way to allow people to enter ID tips for images is to allow them to add an ID tip to a photo on the taxon page.

    b. ID tips should be a separate type of entry, different from comments. ID tips will need special handling (see below), and only ID tips will be candidates to be included as captions below taxon photos presented in the mobile app.

  2. The UI for entering an ID tip should allow others to vote on it, make comments and corrections, and add additional tips. has a nice way of accomplishing this - instead of tracking answers, we would be tracking illustrated ID tips:

  1. I would like to see ID tips have titles. This would give users a quick idea of what the ID tip is about. Titles might be “Leaf Arrangement”, “Flower Color”, or “Phyllary Arrangement”.

    In addition to organizing ID tips, ID Tip Titles could eventually be used to organize standard character heirarchies for certain taxon groups, which could become transcendently powerful. If programmers allow for this possibility, future user groups could develop standard ID Tip Titles, each with a fixed list of possibilities (e.g. Leaf Arrangement). If filled in by an active user community, these could be the basis of powerful standard character searches.

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