Clarification on "Cannot ID this further" checkbox

I did do a forum search as it seems something that would have come up before, but didn’t find this answered in any old threads. I understand cases where it is commonly acceptable use, but this is about a specific type of case.

In old (2+ years) observations, of trees, usually shot on a cell phone from far away and blurry af so needles and/or leaf shape / clusters cannot be made out, is it ok to check “cannot ID further” to move it off the to-ID pile? Clearly at that point many have seen it, and no one can make heads or tails of it.

Additionally: a lot of these are from clearly old classroom projects, where the student uploaded 10-30 observations, and has not used the site since. Many seem like they may have been planted as well, being suburban / around buildings, but one couldn’t rule out it was a tree left during site build. Does any of that change your answer?

Extra info: I would def leave a note about why I checked the box, and to tag me if one wishes me to uncheck it.

Community’s thoughts? One could argue that someone really good at that tree, could maybe come along and make a decent guess based on general tree shape & location. But really…would they? I think not.


Depends on how far away and how blurry, but I usually just press r to review and move on - since many trees are identifiable by general form. And two years is not that old in the scheme of observations getting newly IDed on iNat.


Fair. That’s what I’ve been doing, I was just questioning it after many photos like

If I could make out any details, that would be one thing. But there isn’t in such images, and those and similar is where I was thinking about using that checkbox

I find this checkbox rather intimidating and basically never use it. It is like trying to prove a negative in science… there is a reason why science does not do this.
I know when I am - at the moment! - not able to ID something and know if current literature is not able as well… but how should I know that nobody ever will be? I have seen to many cases of “not possible to ID on pictures” going back and forth sometimes. In a lot of topics it´s also just a matter of “nobody really looked into this yet”. I won´t dare touching this checkbox (maybe except on my own observations, but I am not sure I ever did).

I actually had something similar happen to me working with a certain spider species for some years. Word was, it is not easily possible (some said even impossible) to tell whether a female is adult or not (because the genital region in those spiders is somewhat hidden). But I swear, after handling thousands of them in the five-digit-number and sorting them into adult and juvenile I can see it in 85-90% of cases by just looking at them and not even thinking about the genital region. This is not in the literature anywhere, so this is not “known” information. … but it could be at some point.


I use that button fairly liberally within taxa I’m familiar with, when I know there’s a key ID characteristic that needs to be visible to ID it successfully.

And for things that are just too blurry / dark / distant to even see what they are, or for multiple-species observations.

The observations you linked to, I’d probably leave alone - I’m not super familiar with those species, but someone might be able to ID them based on the overall form.

One thing to remember is that “cannot ID this further” only removes things from Needs ID if the observation already has at least 2 IDs, so you’ll need to add a second one if it only has 1. I’ll generally give a broad ID but not necessarily disagree (hit the “I don’t know, but it’s definitely in genus etc” button on the disagreement popup) and leave a note mentioning why I think it’s not identifiable.

(Side note, it’s a good idea for active users to check their casual observations regularly, as many things get mistakenly marked captive / cannot be improved, especially escaped domesticated plants and animals. If you want to do so, use this link, just replace my username with your own in the URL: )


Thanks all; that was my ‘gut’ was to leave them be, but wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing a disservice.


These seem like they might have enough detail to be moved down to a different level, like genus or family. I’d advocate for being as specific as you can be with your ID, given the image you’re working with, and then hitting that the ID can’t be improved. For example, I have many RG observations of pines and spruces at genus level.


In some cases: blurry photos of known cryptic species groups, hitting can’t be improved gets them out of the way of the clear photos, meaning those get a better shot at being ID’d. However, for this I only do this on groups that I know a decent amount about, and can confidently say, this can’t be ID’d from this shot.

But the main thing that I use the can’t be improved button for is getting rid of observations that have multiple pictures with multiple organisms represented. I’ll put an ID that covers everything listed, leave a note saying which pictures to delete and hit can’t be improved. Again, gets it out of the way of other identifiers.


There are a lot of things that skilled, experienced naturalists know that are not in the literature anywhere.

Thinking back to my undergrad days, doing mammal livetrapping – I could swear that male vs. female Townsend’s chipmunks had different head shapes, and that wasn’t even after handling thousands.

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I use this function very often for taxa I am confident with IDing (molluscs and others).
People often post extremely blurry photos or a shot from an useless angle so marking this checkbox helps to remove those low grade observations from the list of of observations (it can make an observation casual when its community ID is higher than subfamily).
I always ask the observer if they can add more photos though.
However you should not do this for any taxa which you are not too confident identifying since even blurry photos are often identifiable to species level.


agreed - i wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t have intel on the necessary keys to ID and/or know them personally and feel confident. Some of the tree ones I’m thinking of, i’m like 98% about; because a lot look similar shapes (and…lots may be cultivars in the cases I am thinking of) and none of the For Sure ID features show…and not many people are helping with them either. But hey, maybe someone could come along who ID’d thousands for a research project and can tell them appart from blurry shapes, so…but do we bank on that, is the question? Which it seems to be: yes, we do bank on that tiny chance of it happening and that they will go through the years of backlog. (I personally wouldn’t take this approach; but this thread says to, so I will)

I often ask for more photos or details from memory especially if it is someone who actually is using iNat, but I will be honest I don’t bother with that for the offhand student from years ago who has no posts since the couple from a few weeks being forced to use iNat at school.

@dallon yes they both examples are at genus level I think; I seriously doubt ability to get to species since it is missing so many key ID features, and zooming in you can’t even get a guess at needle groupings or length, or even see the bark, etc.


Sounds reasonable! Might start to use that button for multiple species observations as well👍

Ps: I do a lot of old backlog observations… some are 7 or 8 years old… and know that others do too … maybe depends also on kind of organism


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