Annotations that do not fit

@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.


To demonstrate my tendency to be pedantic, a beaten up moth with few remaining scales (especially on the thorax) is old, and could be classed in the “imminent death” category. And with that, I think we should end this conversation!

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Here’s my opinion:
Marking an empty case as pupa (or a dead, dried out insect in winter as adult) will have an effect on the phenology graph, though as @kiwifergus pointed out, the effect should be negligible in most cases.
The advantage: If I am interested in how a pupa of one species looks like, I can find it with the identify tool. And an empty case still might contain valuable ID characters.

To mark an empty pupal case as ‘Adult’ is for me the worst option, then better leave it w/o annotation.


It was already discussed, but I don’t remember the name of the topic, a person shouldn’t rely on graphics thinking they’re the same as in books, finding an old pupa means it CAN be found at the time, so it gives a knowledge, and iNat graphics do show when you can find it, not when it was alive.


I was wondering, could we have an additional option for “tracks/nest/ and other signs”?

As far as with the alive or dead tags, if I upload a picture that was taken a couple of years ago and I know that the animal was alive then but have no idea now, what would be the appropriate tag to id it?

One last question, if an animal is in a reserve or a lake would that still be considered as wild or captive? Ex: Spotting a lion in an African reserve (technically, it could be considered captive but it’s also wild) or some fish in a mountain lake (but their’s a sign saying that they bring in fish - but you wouldn’t know if some of the fish are born in the lake therefore being wild — if that makes sense?).


i am just another user here, and i personally think this is not necessary, as all tracks and signs should be annotated as “Alive or Dead: Cannot Be Determined” so they are easy to filter out. Your opinion on this might differ and you might wish to open a feature request here

iNat is a data deposit for observations. An observation is an encounter with an individual organism at a certain time and place. If you saw Christopher Columbus settings its foot onto the Bahamas at the 12 October of 1492. Then please add this observation with this date and this location to iNat. At this time and place Christopher Columbus was a living male adult. So annotations for this observation would be:
Life Stage: adult
Alive or Dead: Alive
Sex: male
What the organism you saw, is doing now during the time of your data upload, is in most cases speculation. Even if we knew exactly that the organism is dead now (as in the Christopher Columbus example) this does not matter. The only thing that matters is the facts you observed. Remember:
An observation is an encounter with an individual organism at a certain time and place. And your annotations should reflect the facts at that time and place.

iNat observations are by default considered as non “captive-cultivated”. If you have evidence that the organism you observed was “captive-cultivated” (E.g. an animal on a leash, or in a cage, or a fish in an aquarium or aquaculture pond … or a plant that was planted e.g. in a pot, in a garden, in a field or plantation) then you should mark the observation as captive-cultivated. …
Your example of a fish observed in waters where fish are stocked, is certainly a borderline case. Similar to the case of honeybees, discussed somewhere else on the forum right now. One could certainly find elaborate rules, on how to mark observations in these borderline cases (e.g. depending on the probability of local reproduction), but at the end its up to you what you do in these cases.
A lion in a spacious European or American safari park should be marked “captive-cutivated”. - In contrast, National parks and nature reserves do usually preserve wild organisms, reproducing and living there. Which means a free range lion in an African reserve should not be marked “captive-cutivated”.


That was suggested quite a few times in this thread, but I don’t think a feature request was ever made.

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The thread you linked is actually where all annotation feature requests should be made. They are all being directed to this catch-all topic.

I’m leaving this topic open for now, since the original question was about how to apply existing annotations, instead of suggesting new ones. But will close once that seems to have run its course, as the OP has already suggested.

Meanwhile please direct suggestions for new or different annotations to the linked topic, otherwise they may not get noticed by staff in this topic.


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