Advanced Beginner Questions


i joined about 5 months ago and was quite active (my observarions). I still have some open questions where i did not find answers in the Help or Forum. They might be considered “common knowledge”, but i have autism and it helps me a lot to have precise and detailed instructions. Maybe they also help others not knowledgeable in the domain. (Many IT/Free Software people like to contribute to community projects like Open Street Map and Wikipedia.)

Most questions are about how i can be most effective with making observations. (i tend to be too perfectionist when i get involved in something. Maybe i’m overthinking.)

  1. What exactly is my task as an observer? What is the goal of the project? (The kind of answer i want here might become more clear with the following questions.)
  2. What species is the most valuable observation? How to prioritize what to observe? (Imagine i stand in a forest and i see many plants, fungi and animals around me, but only have one hour time. Maybe the endangered? Not the common ones?)
  3. For what area is one observation of one species enough? (Imagine there is the same plant every meter. Do i add observations for all of them or ignore them for like 1km?)
  4. How fast should i observe the same organism again? (Does it make sense to document the presence of ducks in a pond every day when i go there for a walk? Or only once a week/month/year?)
  5. Does it make sense at all to add observations of common organisms like ducks, ants and nettles?
  6. Are observations of animals indoors useful? (Like dead insects or spiders. Examples: 1, 2, 3)
  7. When i come to a new location (on vacation/business trip/hospital/…), what do you (iNat project) and the science community want me to observe there first? (priority)
  8. When is a location documented enough and i should move on? (Right now, i see the same species every day and have already created observations. I fear to waste the time of identifiers with more observations of them.)
  9. What are questions scientists want to answer with the collected data? (For conservation or “for science” might be enough to motivate many people, but i would like to understand it in more detail what we do here.)
  10. What are some insights scientists got from the data?
  11. What resolutions should uploaded pictures have? (Smartphones have 50 or 100 megapixels nowadays. What is enough?)
  12. Does it make sense to upload many pictures that are slightly different, even blurry ones or where the animal is partly hidden to make the computer vision model more robust? (Examples: 1, 2, 3)
  13. When the data i provided is used in a paper, will i be mentioned? How can i become aware of it? (Consider CC BY license)

Answers could be:

  • Just go out and document what you notice. Don’t take it too serious. (That would still leave me unsure what to prioritize)
  • The goal of the community is to document all organisms that are present in each month, with an area resolution of 1km².
  • For conservation, it is important to look out for endangered species.

I started with observations of bugs and insects, now i got a tele lens and document birds and squirrels. I would like to become more confident to do the most useful contribution to science.


Many of these topics have been discussed quite a hit on the forum. Have you searched the forum at all? It’s not the greatest search functionality, but you should be able to find a lot of answers to your questions via that method.

Some links:

That being said, the main thing is that iNat should help you enjoy nature. Don’t feel pressured or overwhelmed. Make sure you’re having fun and only observe what you find interesting or enjoyable.


#2 Honestly, the one that’s never been seen before. Take photos of everything and you might discover a new species.

#6 Yes, see the “Never Home Alone” project

#8 I still find new species in my neighborhood after 2.5 years on iNat.

#11 With high resolution, cropping is important. Photos are reduced in size when you upload, so wide angle shots lose a lot of details.

#13 Unlikely you will be acknowledged for occurrence data in a publication. Note that observations and photos and sounds all have different license options. Researchers are encouraged to download iNat data from GBIF and.


I think a lot of what makes iNaturalist enjoyable is that it’s free-form, so besides for a few basic requirements (accurate locations, dates, identifications, etc), you’re free to do what you want. With so much free range, you’re allowed to make your own goals and observe in ways that further those goals.

For example, one of my goals was to document as much life as I could in a small pond I visit regularly. So, I created a place with clear parameters to focus my goal.

A lot of what motivated me to start this project was to record strange and noval occurrences, like species or behaviors not witnessed in the pond before. I’ve been pretty successful in this regard. I saw my first Wood Duck we named Buzz, a flock of Green-winged Teals representing both subspecies, and a Common Whitetail laying here eggs to name a few. The value to me came from deepening my understanding of the wildlife in this small area and the patterns I witnessed over a few years.

I usually photograph the same species over and over again just because I like to. For species I’m less interested in, I only observe them when they do something of note. Like for animals it’s having offspring, hunting, interacting with one another, and stuff like that. You may also want to look out for aberrant individuals.

I try to capture the ‘feel’ of the organisms’ life through ‘broad strokes’.

It ties into what I said above. If you’re concerned about observing a common species ‘too often’ wait until something interesting happens. I see American Robins all the time, but as fall came, they all grouped together in preparation for migration. I decided to make an observation for them as I had never seen so many in one place before.

Yes, observing common organisms is important too as observation data can be used to recognise population and behavioural trends. Today a species may be common, but there’s no guarantee it will remain that way. We’ll want to know which areas are affected most.


One of the most common organisms I see living in coast live oak trees; e.g., hundreds (or thousands) on a branch of any decent size, is counted as a rare organism on INaturalist. It is found in the rolled edges of leaves on zillions of coast live oak leaves. The tight leaf roll is easily spotted when you look at a leaf edge. It’s must be so common and insignificant to most people that they never bother to post records of it. Stegophylla essigi.

Say, now, only 60 observations of an easily observed species when there may be many thousands of them to be seen in even a small coast live oak. (And, assuming that is a correct ID, of course).


There are lots of methods/goals. It’s hard to determine a value of an observation without a preset goal. There is no goal inherent to iNat. You have to find your own goal(s). You may start with “I want to know what these organisms that I see are” anywhere you find them. A lot of people use iNat strictly to help them to identify things they aren’t familiar with. You may want to focus on building up your lifelist. You may want to record every species you can in your yard ( my home project ) or specific place you have adopted as a personal goal ( my adopted place ). Some people like to “fill in the map”. They go to places with not many observations or fill in unobserved species in places frequently documented (this may be common species that people skip over because they are “boring”). You may find more/new goals as you interact with the platform and community. There are some projects you can join that try to document specific behaviors or species interactions. You can look to see if there are bioblitzes or similar events in your area.

If I only have an hour, I prioritize things I haven’t documented before and/or things that are easier to record. I find that birds are often difficult and time consuming to take photos of esp when walking through a forest. I will sometimes take audio recordings of birds to post instead of photos. I prioritize plants that are flowering since that makes them easier to ID.

You certainly could record every individual of a plant species you see. For example I photograph every flowering dogwood tree I see because they are in decline in my area due to disease. For something more numerous I may only record each species once on a particular walk (I usually don’t go more than 2 miles). But I may record more if I see some variation I find interesting that I want to record (difference in leaf shape with age/size or flower color variation for example); or if I’m documenting galls, I will record every host plant which may lead me to making observations for 10 different water oak trees (Quercus nigra) for example.

There is no reason you can’t record a particular organism everyday. Some people have a goal of getting as many obs as they can and so they will record those ducks every time.

I love recording animals indoors. I see someone already mentioned Never Home Alone project. Here are my obs in the project:

Yes, we are having problems with more obs than identifiers can handle in some categories. You can help by being active in learning to ID your own observations (so you only need one other person for ID). Don’t ever agree with someone (no matter how knowledgeable they seem) without independently coming to the same conclusion. You can ask what characters they used to determine their ID or where you can find ID guides online. You can also join in with Identi-Friday group here on the forum for ideas of which of other people’s obs to ID and methods to help ID. Or just brag about your progress. :wink:

Sometimes you don’t know what is going to be important until after you post it. Sometimes you will find scientists or projects with specific goals you can help with. I have personally mailed mushrooms and galls to scientists interested in describing new species and/or finding new hosts/parasites of described species.

iNat will resize images so that the longest dimension will be 2048 pixels. Cropping out empty space will help keep the image of your subject from being too low in resolution to ID. Remember it’s the longest dimension that matters so some people will crop things to a square. Shooting photos with a large number of megapixels can be helpful if you can’t get very close to a subject. Once you crop around your subject there will still be enough pixels to see what it is.

I’m currently trying to add more photos for galls that can be very variable in shape to help the CV. Especially ones that haven’t been added to CV yet because there aren’t very many observations. I like your idea of partially hidden animals. I have no idea if that’s something that’s needed. Getting photos of organisms at various life stages and from different angles probably helps CV.

For birds, I think scientists are more likely to use data from eBird, CBC, or GBBC than iNat (at least in US/Canada). I prefer those citizen science projects for birds because I only need proof (photo/audio) if it is unusual time/location for that species. I can spend more time IDing/counting birds in the field which is often easier because I can observe behavior and focus my eyes quicker than my camera. That’s not to say that I don’t photograph birds too. I like to take photos for myself to look back on to remember those birding trips, to show friends and family, and also sometimes proof for eBird/CBC/GBBC. Of course I will put those photos on iNat too because why not? I have quite a backlog of bird photos from pre-iNat days that I’m working on adding.

  1. There is no “task” per se. But following one of the big aims of iNat your task would probably be to go out and enjoy yourself in and with nature. To produce valueable data while doing so, take care that the information you provide to iNat (location, time…) is correct

  2. That is completely up to you. Every species is valuable in it’s own way. Which one is more valueable to science depends on the questions scientists want to answer… and we cannot really know that. Sometimes they want to answer a question involving absolutely common organisms with maybe focus on phenology or variety of a certain species and lots of observations of a single species is what they need. Maybe their interest is focused to a certain location and a broad overview of species in that region might be more interesting to them. You do not know beforehand, so just do what you enjoy most.

  3. See 3)

  4. That probably also depends on the species. Maybe you are interested in observing when a certain kind of bird leaves an area and observing them every day until they are gone might be interesting. Maybe observing the same plant every day not so much… but on the other hand, even that might give some idea for phenology again. Depends on what YOUR goal is

  5. Absolutely, see 2)… generally common species are often relatively underreported, as they are often percieved as boring.

  6. Yes, absolutely. Some species are very anthropophil and will always be found in human housing in certain regions… so only chance to see and study them is indoors

  7. see 2)… it is up to you.

  8. Never really. There are so many people documenting life in their backyard or similar for years, constantly cranking up those species numbers or providing valuable data over the years on change and consistancy… it can become an interesting challenge for an observer to find more species and actually has the potential to teach the observer a lot about the smaller and less “flashy” wildlife

  9. The last link @tiwane provided will surely give you an idea… the questions are as divers as the observers on this platform. You never know what your data will end up beeing used for.

  10. See …9)

  11. Others might be able to answer the question concerning the computer model. If it comes to identification, different angles of an organism can be helpful, especially if you yourself are not sure which specific characters are needed for others to help you with the ID. But if you have a rather clear case of a common organism, one or two shots should be sufficient

  12. Sometimes you will know because scientists approached you about the data. Other then that you often might not be aware. Checking those forum posts that collect the scientific papers using iNat data and seeing if your observations might have been used for it might be a possibility


#11 Actually the smartphone resolution is much lower. They generate a picture of that size, but the smallest details in that are bogus. The final details are generated by sharpening and AI type programs.

Sometimes they get them close to correct, but in organisms that fill only small part of the image, the details are usually wrong and misleading. I would suggest trying to keep the object so large that it looks reasonable size even after re-sizing the image to say 50% or less.

#13 This certainly can happen. Check your mailbox in iNat daily ;-)

From my perspective, most of your questions relate somewhat indirectly to your #9, except that I would modify it from, “What are questions scientists want to answer with the collected data?” to a more general, “What questions can a given observation, or approach, answer?”.

The odd thing about data is that none of it is inherently useless (I could go on a very long rant about this, which I will restrain myself from doing), so it’s difficult to provide clear, structured recommendations for how to use iNat. However, since you’ve specified that saying, “Just go out and document what you notice. Don’t take it too serious.” wouldn’t be very helpful for you, let me recommend the approach that others like @lappelbaum have brought up: you could create your own structure by setting personal goals. Thinking from a scientist’s perspective, maybe try doing some quick background research and trying to come up with some personal research questions that could guide your focus? As some quick ideas, exploring how well observed different groups/places are in your area or searching for research related to iNat might spark some thoughts on where more work/focus is needed (simply typing “iNaturalist” into Google scholar will bring up many studies, but these can be tough to get through if you’re not used to reading peer-reviewed articles, and I don’t know your particular background).

As for the questions regarding things like ideal photo resolution and other, more technical, things: higher quality and more (angles, images in general, etc.) are better if possible, but you might find yourself surprised at what can be done even with a single, blurry photo in the right context. Biology and ecology are complicated… some species require specialised equipment to ID, whereas others might be unique enough to tell from a shockingly bad photo (I’ve submitted a few of those myself hahaha). At the end of the day though, the most valuable observation is the one that’s submitted so anything you’re willing to contribute is appreciated :grin:

P.S., to quickly address #13… as @egordon88 mentioned, you probably won’t be directly contacted. Granted, I’ve certainly had researchers directly message me a few times, but that was usually for very specific projects/studies/questions/records and with the license settings I have I don’t believe they were ever obligated to do so.


As others have said, there is no overarching rule that dictates how, when, and what you “should” observe. That doesn’t mean there is no goal, but I’m pretty sure that all long-term iNaturalist users set their own goals, because pursuing them is satisfying. Some “rules” I follow, to illustrate how specific the goals can be:

  1. At a new site, catalog all the Smilax (greenbrier) species I can find.
  2. Head to a place where Sphagnum (peatmoss) has been observed by someone else, to identify it to species.
  3. At a trail I visit often, document the first flowering or fruiting of plant species each year.
  4. Watch to document the spread of introduced species (Joro spider, air potato beetle).
  5. Help a nearby Wildlife Refuge make an inventory of plant species.
  6. Contribute to a project that illustrates seeds and fruits.
  7. Make an inventory of what lives in my yard.

iNaturalist is great for detail-oriented, focused people. Learn to make projects for yourself and you will enjoy it even more!


Your task as an observer is to upload photos of organisms with accurate locations and dates. That’s all. Photos that are identifiable are necessary to reach Research Grade, obviously, but all kinds of photo flaws can be posted and sometimes bad photos are still identifiable and therefore good data.

The answers for most of your other questions really are, “Photo what you want, where you want (including inside buildings), when you want.” Try to minimizing posting the same individual organism twice in one day, unless there is some change you want to document. Minimize posting captive/cultivated organisms.

I think that the idea of the iNaturalist dataset is that if people many, many people with different interests and methods post many, many photos, the biases and interests of individual observers kind of cancel out and a useful dataset results.


#9. We really can’t predict what scientists will want to learn from the data. Obviously, most questions involve mapping and changes in species distributions. Some involve phenology, when things happen, like when insects emerge or flowers bloom. Some are questions about variation within a species over different geographic areas. Some are things I’d never guess! There’s a project collecting data on what snails and slugs eat. There’s one collecting photos of iridescence in insect wings, to see if there are species-to-species differences.

#13. If your photo is used in a paper, you should be mentioned. The author may or may not contact you to tell you or ask permission, depending on how your photos are licensed. If your data is used in a paper (along with data from many of the rest of us), you probably won’t be asked or mentioned individually. The authors won’t tell you – they don’t have enough time to ask/tell everyone. In this case, probably the best way to find out would be to keep an eye on the forum posts that report publications that use iNaturalist data and take a look at any that seem to involve your area(s) and species you’ve photo’d.


Thanks everyone for the responses!

I already read a lot in the forum, but did not search for these specific questions. Sorry. And thanks for the links!

Such answers don’t help me here. I understand iNat is a neutral platform without a specific goal, but some guidance on how to get started/what to look for in the help would make the project more accessible to beginners.

CW: mental health

In my specific case, i currently suffer from depression and can’t really enjoy nature or anything. When i see a flower, i know that i would have liked it in the past, but now i get thoughts like “this stupid flower. i hate it” without any specific reason for that. And it’s very hard to make any decision. Autistic thinking makes it even harder when i get caught up in details or overthink.

Collecting data is currently more important to me than appreciating nature (sadly). I would love if my contributions help scientific discoveries. So the main question really is:

And @sopacexplorer gave good examples:

And this answers my question very well:

I will summarize it and try to get it into the help page.

@sopacexplorer thanks a lot for your perspective!

I don’t do observations for some arbitrary personal goal, but “for science”. So i care more about what the scientists need and what makes a good/useful dataset for them.

The iNat project could coordinate with researchers by inviting them to share their needs and promote important research projects using temporary (local) challenges users can join. This way users know what goal they contribute to specifically.

For example the Lower Saxony State Office for Water Management, Coastal Conservation and Nature Conservation (NLWKN) asked the public for help to protect the stag beetle by sending them observations (using a horrible PDF form). A local NGO shared it on social media. That’s how i learned about it. That would have been a perfect local iNat challenge that i could have been notified about in the App. Then more people would know about it.

(I shared them links to my iNat observations and said it’s open data, please use that. And they answered that they know iNat and already use the data, which made me very happy!)

@tiwane was that idea discussed before in the team?

(I searched the forum and only found challenges announced there. Like the City Nature Challenge and Bioblitzes which are general challenges without specific research goal and e.g. Western Redcedar Dieback Map. How should a casual user of the App find out about those (without reading the forum)? Was the City Nature Challenge 2023 not properly announced in the blog? It was only mentioned here.)

Yes, looking at existing research should give a good feel for what the data is actually useful for.

I know pixel binning is enabled by default, but you can turn it off to get the full sensor resolution. Which might not be useful in most cases. The point was people could provide crazy high resolutions if useful, or scale it down.


If you need guidance, I recommend looking for projects that are in need of observers. There are definitely organisms and places that could use more observation data.

Projects like these may be a good place to start:✓&q=germany


If you want to get even more involved with research, here is a list of researchers/projects who are looking for specimens (probably a bit outdated):

Other than that I tend to agree with @egordon88’s first suggestion - the observations that feel the most meaningful to me are the ones that were significant discoveries (e.g. first record of a taxon for your region or other significant range expansion, undescribed species).
Naturally there’s no reliable way to find those, other than post everything that’s possibly alive and focus on obscure taxa and discovery strategies. The rate of discovery for something significant is low though so I don’t think it’s a sustainable primary goal. For me it’s a been a fun side-effect of trying to see as many species personally as I can.


In regards to your first question, since you’re not satisfied with answers of ‘do what you like’ I’ll just say

Strive to have high quality observations. Sure, not every picture is going to be good, and sometimes you can get a good id off of a bad picture (especially with birds and mammals) but there are some taxa that are REALLY hard to ID without good pictures. Many plants (especially in Asteraceae) are really really difficult to ID without pictures of the right morphology (often when they’re not in flower, you just can’t, unfortunately,) and many fungi ARE ideable but people just post a single picture from one angle and the pictures are missing key identifying features.

So say you come across a flower you’re unfamiliar with; take pictures of the leaves, the undersides of the leaves, the stem, the flower, a pic of the flower from the side, a picture of the bracts… etc. Get every angle, is what I’m saying.

If you have a fungus, don’t just get a picture of the cap. Take an in situ shot. Pick it (or at least angle your camera so you can get multiple angles), take a picture of the stem, the gill attachment (if it has them,) the base, note what the substrate is and what trees its growing around (deciduous or coniferous?) Smell it, what does it smell like?

Stuff like this will help improve the quality of what you’re seeing.

Regarding how to find projects - honestly just get on projects, type some keywords you’re interested in, and start looking. Users aren’t allowed to advertise specific projects in the forums (unless related to an ongoing discussion,) so you’re really not going to be able to find them out here. That said, I will call out this site ( which is one of the groups in NA involved with fungi DNA sequencing and while the fall mycoblitz just ended, I’m sure he’ll run some more in 2024. You know, if you’re interested in fungi.


I know some specific research projects looking for people to observe and collect specimens but they are all in the US. Sorry :slightly_frowning_face: They are all either for fungi/mushrooms or insect galls. Maybe you can find scientists researching those in your country.

An alternate idea:

1 Like

There is a mycoblitz in Europe currently happening through the 29th; Specimans can be shipped after the collection period but they must be collected during the period

EDIT: here’s the info about the project

That will depend on the individual scientist. However, as there are many scientists here on iNaturalist, you can read their profiles and see what they are researching. A good way to find out their usernames would be to look at what projects are in your area and see the names of the participants. That will also help you to determine which research subjects you can best help with, as some projects will be on taxa that you have better access to than others.