Annotations that do not fit

I often come across observations that do not lend themselves to categories in the Annotation section. As an example :
This observation (not mine) is a cast off pupal skin. As such it is neither a pupa or an adult butterfly. It is neither alive, nor dead. This causes me distress (mild), as do mixed flocks of birds of the same species of birds & etc (I can be quite pedantic about these things!). Is there any way for a nit picker like me to annotations in a case like this?

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My view is that the observation is of the pupal case, not the organism itself. In other words, it is evidence it was present… in essentially the same way as scat would be. Or perhaps a better analogy would be a bird’s feather, in that it gives clues to the life stage of the bird when it lost the feather, but you have no indication of the lifestage it is at for the moment of the observation. It affects phenology graphs too… That pupal case marked adult in December for a moth that only lives for a few days after emerging in July …

I personally don’t think we should be putting annotations on sign, but I think I am in a smal minority with this view.


As you say, this is a shed skin of a pupa, so its rather straight forward:
Life stage “pupae” and
Alive or death “can not be determined”, which is the option for traces, scat, sheed skins etc …


any chance we can get a new option under annotation - currently have alive/dead - could a third option be ‘trace or sign’?


That is not needed, as there is already “can not be determined”.
And in case of traces, signs and shed skins it rather obvious that this is the option to choose.


still think that this third option would be useful for data analysis to flag records where a species was present just not at the time that the observation was made. currently i don’t see how one can flag these sort of observations. one other example is when people post photos of shells - the species is definitely not present and it is not correct to assign ‘dead’ as the individual might not have died at that spot.

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iNat as i understand it, collects data on observations. If you observe a empty shell of a bivalve on a beach, then the observation is certainly that of a dead bivalve. The place where this individual lived or died can neither be exactly determined, nor does it matter. Important is where the observation took place.

Data analyses might show that human observers often find dead seashells on beaches, especially during holiday season … that sounds reasonable to me. Its rather straight forward ;) Try not to overthink it.


I’ve worked on some sort of “type of evidence” annotation prototype, but it got put on the backburner. Will need to take another look into it.

Well, for alive or dead you can put “cannot be determined”. Might be best to add a “cannot be determined” option for other annotations, which I think has been discussed. Would that salve your mild distress?


@tiwane I have noticed this too in other topics on annotations. In particular for me, the phenology graphs show pattern of date and state, but if the observation is for sign, then the date and state are not neccesarily matching.

As an example, I could make an observation of an eggshell in a nest. The concensus in the forum seems to be “mark it as egg” regardless of what time of year you observe it. But if that bird only nests in December/January, then it massively impacts the phenology graph to show eggs through out the year.

A possible option would be to have a “live organism present at time of observation” DQA, set by default to yes, which we can toggle if it is sign. Then that DQA can be used to filter out observations from the phenology graphs. This wording of course is just for example.

There was an element of “it only mucks up the graphs a little bit, and people are aware of it” from some forum members, so I guess it comes down to whether “imperfect is perfectly fine for the situation” :)


Well the graphs and maps on iNat seem to show seasonality and location of observations. This pattern obviously depends a lot on timing and location of human activity. While such graphs and maps might not perfectly reflect where and when an organism really lives, they might help people to learn where they can find and observe a species or its traces. These graphs and maps are therefore perfect for the primary aim of iNat. To improve our experience of nature.

If somebody were interested in pure seasonality and locations of a certain species only, one could filter observations to: Alive or death “alive”. This might filter out observations with different Alive or death values. Like “dead” seashells on beaches, “can not be determined” eggshells, or of “can not be determined” hatched butterfly pupae.

Filtering can be done by everybody interested in such data e.g. in a project or externally. More filters might be necessary on a case to case base depending on the research project. E.g. Filter on location for widespread species that have different life cycles in different climates. Filters on year, in climates with a rainy and dry season, as these seasons might come earlier (or later) in some years … and so on …

As for an additional option: “live organism present at time of observation” … this is exactly the same as: Alive or death “alive”… which means we already have it, and implementing it twice is redundant.

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That seems like a reasonable idea to me. I started a thread discussing a similar topic a few months back: Life stage annotations for “Recent Evidence” observations (e.g. leafmines, galls, juvenile feathers).

“cannot be determined” could be useful for animals with no sexual dimorphism, tracks & signs, etc.

I’d also like a “none” for Plant Phenology so plants which aren’t flowering/fruiting/budding can be annotated.

Much of the time it doesn’t really matter but if I’m trying to verify that I’ve annotated all my flowering plants Plant Phenology then being able to put something against every observation makes it easier to check. Same with sex & life stage for animals.


I agree; if this were my observation I would mark it as pupa since evidence of a pupa is the most obvious. Others mark it as adult though since it also shows (presumably) that an adult emerged… I’m not sure if a “cannot be decided” is appropriate though because the observation is for the evidence of the organism, not the organism itself. What life stage is presented by this evidence? That can be determined.

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Based on this argument the tracks of an animal in sand would have to be annotated as “dead”, as the observed sand and the observed impressions are certainly not alive. ;). - Also the evidence provided is in most cases a photo, which is never alive either. - If we follow this argument we have to annotate every observation as dead - which doesn"t make any sense to me.

The annotation “Life stage” is for the life stage of the organism observed (either whole, or parts of it, or as tracks/signs).
And the annotation “Alive or death” is also for the organism observed (either whole, or parts of it, or as tracks/signs).

How to use “Alive or death” annotations:
In organisms that are observed in their total, one can in most cases use either “alive” or “death”. The option “alive” is used, if at the time and place provided, a living organism is observed. The option “death” is for cadavers, bones and other remains of dead organisms like e.g. seashells, or butterfly wings.
In some observations that are on part of an organism, the fate of the organism at the time of observation is unknown. Therefore “can not be determined” should be used in observations on shed feathers, eggshells, shed hair, shed skins, exuviae, shed ant or termite wings, shed lizard tails etc.
In observations of tracks or signs, the fate of the organism at the time of observation is also unknown. Therefore “can not be determined” should be used in all observations that are on tracks or signs, like footprints, feeding traces (e.g. leaf mines), scat, burrows, nests etc.


Thank you all. As I said, I do have a tendency to overthink things, and all of your suggestions have been very helpful. It’s gone some way to easing my mild distress!!

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I agree, but there are a large number of forum participants that are adamant on marking adult feathers as “adult”, and eggshells as “egg”. When I have proposed not doing so in other threads, there has been considerable pushback.

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In this particular case, you could annotate it as a pupa and also add the exuvia observation field.


But this terminology isn’t obvious to many observers, especially those not familiar with the use of databases. Maybe we need to change the wording of the Alive/Dead annotation to something like the suggested “live organism present at time of observation?”. Or change the value labels to “Alive at time of observation” and “Dead at time of observation” and “Cannot determine.”


Mixed flocks must be annotated, the observation about 1 individual, and it has life stage.

In those situations it can be thought of as an observation of one of the flock, but it does become an issue of “which one of the flock” is being annotated about

I think there is nothing that says an observation has to have an annotation. Perhaps we just omit them when it doesn’t make sense, or creates confusion or discension, to add them

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I’m not convinced it’s necessary add any sex annotation for these taxa. How would improve the data or help to fill out a taxon page chart?

For what it’s worth, the terms are defined if you mouse over them:

I tend to agree with this. A lot of us like to/feel compelled to fill out a field if it exists - I know that I’m adding an “Alive” annotation for all of my new observations of living organisms, even though I’m not convinced it helps much - but it’s OK to leave it empty none of the the available options are a good fit.