Amount of "Unknown" records is decreasing

Following reading your post I did the same yesterday, sorting through the unknown bin. I was surprised that just being able to ID to the class or family seems to be helpful. I was quite surprised that sometimes the observers would not try to guess at the kingdom level.


Many new users don’t understand where to put id and hveother problems, so it seems it’s easy to leave the id blank.


In my area, I see hundreds of Unknown observations with multiple photos, an entirely different organism in each photo. I’ve started IDing them as whatever the first photo is of, taking the other photos as information on the environment in which the focal organism was observed, and commenting that that is what I am doing. Is that right/okay/problematic/wrong/terrible?

in such a case you should ID as the common taxon – for example, a lily and a daisy are both Flowering Plants.
sometimes you will have to ID as Life because the photos do not even share a Kingdom-- e.g. a flower and a fungus.
this is because the ID is meant to be for all the photos. If a photo is a context or habit shot, it should still include the subject – e.g., one closeup of a bee, and a wide shot of the bee on the plant it was pollinating.

you can politely ask the observer to separate the photos into new observations, in these cases.

thanks for asking!


In many of these cases, someone asked the poster to separate the photos months or years ago, with no reply. I can mark the cross-kingdom mixed bags as Life. My only concern with that is that many of the most interesting and mysterious observations are marked as Life and marking all the mixed bags as Life makes it hard to find those interesting cases.


yeah… it’s sad to see good data go to waste. there have been requests to allow for dividing up these observations, but allowing that creates its own problems.
Here are two relevant topics:


All the photos in the observation will show up in the photo gallery of the species for whatever the observation ends up being identified as. So if the first image is a lily and the second image is a daisy, and the observation is identified as a lily, there will be an image of just a diasy in the lily photo gallery.


No worries, after 2 id’s and a mark of “can’t improve,” those items will become filed in Casual, out of the “regular” Life pile. I try to regularly go through chunks of those at a time after a month or two grace period.


If the user doesn’t respond for months it’s better to mark those as no evidence of an organism, as there’s really no evidence of 1 organism on all photos.


I also ID to the common taxon (animals, flowering plants, life etc), and just mark them as ‘no’ to community ID can’t be improved. Then if someone agrees to my original broad ID, it’ll be marked as casual (as @lotteryd said). This can be undone later if the user comes back and separates them.


That DQA is for situations where the evidence provided (photos/sounds) provides no evidence of an organism. Please only use it for those situations. For observations which have photos of multiple organisms, please add an ID of the common ancestor.


Most of the unknowns I’ve IDed are very new (based on Observation count; I don’t take time to see how long they’ve had an account), often still in the single digits. I suspect that either they don’t know how to ID or they are reluctant to ID very generally.

It’s remarkably satisfying to check into iNat each day and see a bunch of organisms I’d IDed as “plant” or “fungus” getting better IDs from the experts. Even better, I discovered that one new user had IDed a few other observations to kingdom level on her own. She’s learning!


I have “adopted” this comment from @peakaytea (which I discovered while IDing some unknowns) for people who put multiple species photos in one observation:

If you separate these into one observation per organism, each can be IDd. It isn’t possible for people on iNaturalist to post an ID to your observation if it contains more than one organism.

A quick way to fix this observation is to use the duplicate feature. In the upper right corner of the observation page, click the downward arrow next to “Edit” and choose “Duplicate.” Then identify the duplicate observation as the organism in your second picture and uncheck the checkboxes next to the other pictures. You can repeat this process to create new duplicate observations for picture #3, #4, etc.

It includes the “how-to” because many of these observations come from very new users who wouldn’t be expected to know how to do it.

As a personal policy, I only comment; I don’t ID. Doing so would, it seems to me, only lead to bad IDs that don’t accurately describe the organisms shown. If iNaturalist has a formal policy on how to handle IDing these, I’ll leave it to the more experienced people.


It really is a good feeling. One thing that really helped me is eliminating using common names to find the right taxon. Searching with french common names lead to some pretty embarrassing selections when I didnt double check before clicking. At first, it is a bit slower and feels like you are back to botany and zoology 101 classes. I think some users, when they cant identify at the species level, just choose the unknown option. Even picking the right genus is not obvious if it is an organism you are not familiar with and you dont necessarily know the name of the other level of taxons it belongs. My international students, who are now doing an inventory of the local biodiversity, have a hard time. They will pick a selection offered which is wrong at the species level, but correct at the familly or order level. For exemple, one from Cameroun chose beaver instead of muskrat. When they are both in the water, they are difficult to tell apart unless you have seen a bunch of them.


Yes, and it’s not just about species, genus, family, etc. What level of specificity can be gleaned depends on the organism itself.

In my Dandelion example, I can readily see that a plant is a Dandelion if there’s a clear photo of flower and leaves; it can be confidently IDed at the genus level, if not species. On the other hand, I just IDed an “unknown” as Grasses, although I’m pretty sure it’s a Common Reed (phragmites), but there are so many grasses that can look similar, especially if they aren’t in my geographic region and I don’t know what is similar. But I identify Blue Jays easily at species level because I’ve never encountered anything that looks similar.

Bottom line: ID as closely as you can, but no closer.


Dandelions are a bit my curse right now as they started blooming. I identify at the species only for local plants that I can key with the Flora of New Brunswick in case of doubts. The two common species we have here are not that painful to tell apart but people rarely take a closeup of the involucre or of the seeds. When I go through the unknown, I wish people had more photos of the different parts of the plants, at least that would help sort them into monocots and dicots.


Then how would you mark duplicates? If I mark them that they could be imprved they’re just getting 10 more ids, I found 6 different photos of the same moose from the same person at the same date, and without mark it as no evidence there were just many more ids, author didn’t care about comments and mentions. Other options to vote seem wrong, so if nothing more is added to vote it’s the only option.

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That came up earlier in the thread somewhere around here, if folks want to see prior discussion

I was referring to observations that included photos of many different organisms, like if one observation had photos of a plant, an insect, and a lizard.


But isn’t it the same? Those also contain an organism, so I want to know how “legal” those actions are and if there’s a working opportunity.