Are there too many new observations to identify?

Thank you very much! I’ve been thinking that I’ll stick to my method, and your response has made up my mind. I enjoy doing it, and if I can help folks learn more, then it’s worth it. Even if it does slow me down a bit. Your method sounds good, and time often changes things. I’ve looked at some moths I’ve identified and wonder what I was thinking at the time.


The short answer is that there probably are too many observations.
I identify one family only. I was looking at observations as they came in, but recently decided to try to clear the backlog. I started clearing observations about 3 years old, but now am now working on ones about 20 months old. At this rate I might catch up in a year, but with the ever accelerating rate of observations I might never catch up.
Some of the older material has taken two years to be identified to family level. If an observation is posted as “Insect” I will not see it until one of the helpful “coarse identifiers” get it to family level.
Only about half of grasshopper species have been described, hence for many species it is impossible to do better than genus, or sub-tribe if in an undescribed genus.
Many images entered are of nymphs. These can be very hard to identify.
The book of Australian grasshoppers only has about half the species in it, and not the same half as are described.
A large proportion of observations are of a handful of species commonly found in gardens in the more populous areas. There are so many records of these that identifying them is not very important.
I give more the more sparsely populated states with more of the arid area species that are my main interest.
Identifying is time consuming, and I can only devote limited time to it. There is also the continual exasperation of observers using the AI generated suggestions make identifications of species that simply do not occur in Australia. This is pure laziness. Worse some do not withdraw when the mistake is pointed out.
My advice for observers is;
1 be patient, it may take time;
2 put as much information as possible in the images, side view, view from above, detail of head and pronotum, colour of inner hind femur and hind tibia, detail of the spur on the throat, detail of wings, detail of genitalia if a male would be ideal, but very rarely achieved;
3 Identify your specimen as far as possible. There is an excellent app for identifying Australian insect orders, so no excuse for posting as “Insect”;
4 if you use the AI generated suggestions check that the species actually occurs in Australia, use the ALA for this.


That sounds like a good idea, although the link should probably go first to a page explaining identification etiquette. Or maybe the explanation of how to put high-level IDs on unknowns. Otherwise we replace the problem of not enough identifiers with the problem of bad identifiers.


Spent some time going through Unknowns in South Korea on Thursday and Friday and reduced the number from 39 pages down to 35 pages. Today it’s back up to 42 pages of Unknowns.

I’m beginning to have an appreciation for how Sisyphus must have felt with his boulder!


I thought jizz was an abbreviation of “It just is”.


Seasonal. Perhaps. For me, I observe and identify a lot all year except Summer. It just gets so hot and then there are a lot of fires. There are fewwe plants in flower also. I’m going hiking a lot less right now. California, Summer … time to stay inside or work in the garden. Some hikes when the air quality is decent enough.

To the thread -

I joined in 2017. The number of users has risen sharply. Many people are beginners. So yes, I post a lot of stuff, but I know most will never be identified.

Some observations with good photos do get identified or confirmed years later. I have seen this many times. Certain Botanists will pick a species and go through all the observations of the species one day, and suddenly all of your whatever species is confirmed or corrected.

I don’t worry about my observations getting an ID unless I am actively trying to learn what I saw. So I feel some responsibility to get the best photos possible and try to look up the description and photos of possible species. Then , if I’m not sure, I might (infrequently) ask someone more knowledgeable by tagging them.

After all, we are the observer at the scene. We can keep training our senses to see our local flora and fauna in more detail.

I try to identify local plant observations by subscribing to all from my county. It is a big task, so I just do what I can, but a lot slips by on my dashboard if I don’t check in frequently.

Also Summer is crispy, so I’m doing a lot of around the house projects instead of iNaturalist stuff. I have learned a ton here. But not without also trying to study local field guides and flora. Eventually you find iNat is a start, but deeper understanding come from reading and looking at the technical descriptions, and for plants Botanical drawings and photos of pressed plants. With plants, eventually an observer who enjoys iNaturalist may want to learn to use a Flora with a taxonomic key for their local area.

Stay safe and take care,



Apparently there are various possible explanations for the word’s origin, including a corruption of the German gestalt.


that would be the s - shape and form.
Combined with gi for stroke of genius (I am amazed at what people can confidently see in a blurry, or lacking distinctive detail, photo)

I’ve often thought about making a guide about the best way to ID beaten up moths. Unless it is totally bare, there are ways to at least make a guess (most of the time). Even bare moths have a general shape…


I really don’t think we should worry about “too many observations,” for several reasons.

  1. Some of this increase is COVID-related, for example in classes. Posting iNaturalist photos is an obvious way to get students to look at organisms and learn about them. I had my students post 100 plants each – that was over 2000 observations that wouldn’t have been posted otherwise. This source of photos will end.

  2. Also COVID-related. People not going to work, not making long trips, etc. may turn to iNaturalist for some of their nature-related experience. That need will end, though hopefully the interest in iNaturalist won’t.

  3. The bigger problem for researchers using citizen science data is not having enough data points. Great to have “too many.”

  4. If observations aren’t identified, researchers can’t use them, but having 50% of a very large number available may be better than having 95% of a smaller number available. Bring on the photos!


The one serious problem I see with not getting things identified quickly: discouraging beginners. I wonder if it’s possible to have a choice under “Identify” to work on the first 20 observations by new users. Have a button labeled “beginners” that we can click to zero in on these photos. I’d be willing to ID a few hundred every few days, and I suspect others would too.


there’s the filter on Identify for accounts less than a week old.
That should let you find most beginners.


and somewhere someone pointed out that the number of weeks in the URL can be changed if you want to look at accounts created 2 or 3 weeks earlier, for example


I didn’t know that. Thank you! That “account creation” filter looks like just what I want.


Well, that was fun. Kind of. About 300 observations by new observers. Lots of classes starting to use iNaturalist. Most memorable observations: A correctly labeled Moon and a pile of rocks labeled “Elephant Seal.”


Yes, you can change the “&user_after=1w” to “&user_after=2w” to give 2 weeks for example.

Agreed. I’m wondering if it may discourage identifiers too as I sometimes feel like this too:

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Yeah, that’s why I stopped looking at page counts when Identifying. Seeing those #s go down was motivating, but seeing them go back up higher than ever was just too discouraging. Though I can filter on South Korea and add coarse IDs to Unknowns if you’d like assistance, so you don’t feel like you are doing it alone?

On the other hand, I do still look at page counts when I add annotations to a less observed taxon, because those pages don’t go up as fast and annotating is a slog where seeing the progress helps.


I was doing that yesterday and agreed to some things that were 5 years old, yikes.


As a non-expert, I still try to ID as much as I can of common plants in my area, such as bilberries, lingonberries, tansies, common plantains etc. I imagine that I somehow relieve the real experts of some of the stress, and I feel that focussing on one species or genus at a time makes identifying much easier, as it’s easy to see if something’s a bit ‘off’ when you already saw 10 other photos of the same plant. Of course I still mess up sometimes, but I check every notification and withdraw my ID when in doubt.


Isn’t it though. It’s definitely my impression that by numbers, and by volume of observations, most users don’t look at their observations critically. They push button, algorithm spits out implausible ID, the more specific the better. The users are not interested in family level ID. The app advertises species ID, and therefore that’s what the users demand. The algorithm has an effect on what users expect, and how they think about their own (iNaturalist-related) behavior.

If you are diligent, the best you can hope for is to have a “conversation” with the algorithm. Better family level IDs will be used to train the algorithm better, which then will be used to offer more uncritical users more highly specific IDs. That’s where a dedicated identifier can actually make a difference, and many people do want to do that, just look at the many topics where people ask variations of “what can I do to help the AI.” But as somebody adding identifications, by interacting with an observation you’re primarily interacting with the AI. You’re rarely making a connection with the observer.

The AI is great. If it did offer higher level IDs, as appropriate for so many species, it could even encourage critical thinking in users.