Dead/Alive Annotation & Its Purpose

This may be an edge case, but as a Lepidopterist many of my uploaded observations are illustrated by a set specimen. The observation data always reflects the date & location where the voucher specimen was collected alive.
This is to say that a live insect was observed, but for clarity (and very often to make identification readily possible) the image is of the insect now deceased.

I’m noticing that people are annotating these observations as “dead”. Is this a correct use of the annotation?
If the annotation exists so that people can avoid observation that figure dead organisms, then I have no issues. If the annotation is there to provide further information about the observation, then I need to start marking all such observations of mine as “alive” & will have a lot of work ahead of me to explain to people why I’ve done so.

It might be better if there was a 4th option for the annotation “Alive/Dead/Cannot be Determined” & “Voucher Specimen”.


Oh Wow - You’re as bad as me!!! (see What I took away from the debate was that the Observation recorded is what we should focus on. Don’t add extra stress to my over taxed brain.


I feel confident those insects were alive when found but they’re dead in the picture. Feeling conflicted, I don’t mark them as either one.


At first I thought the purpose was to spare sensitive individuals from seeing dead animals by being able to filter them out. However, that wouldn’t work very well since most observations are not annotated. I guess they could filter for living species, but I don’t think they’d get very much.

Then I guessed it would help some forms of research, but I’m not sure that it would work so well for that either! You couldn’t tell if there were an increase in deaths necessarily, and you probably couldn’t determine means of death. And there would be lots of confusion with the above-mentioned problem. Now that you mention it, I think I might stay away from that button unless the observation is my own.


I either mark such as alive or don’t annotate at all.


That’s definitely one of the purposes. I’d like to add that filter at some point, hopefully soon. Obviously it won’t be foolproof, but it might help.

In @cabintom’s case, I would annotate them as Alive if they were alive at the time of collection, and the date and location of the observation are the date and location of collection (which is what they should be regardless).


Many organisms can very quickly change colour after dying, and this can sometimes have a big impact on identification if there’s only a limited amount of evidence available in the photos. It’s also not always obvious that some specimens are in fact dead, unless they are clearly pinned or set in some way. A fresh dead specimen carefully posed against a natural beckground can be impossible to distinguish from a live specimen that was photographed in situ. For these cases, the only person that can reliably say whether the specimen was alive or dead when photographed is the observer/photographer. So I think that the Alive/Dead annotation is never going to be enough by itself. There also needs to be a way to explicitly distinguish between what was photographed, and what was originally recorded.


I assumed the dead/alive field was mainly used to correctly assess the natural history of the animal. For example, there are graphs of species dynamics such as seasonality. If say you find the corpse of a migratory bird that’s not supposed to be in the area on that date, marking it as dead will fix the outlier in seasonality. Another example, if you find a dead nocturnal animal, or a footprint of one, at noon, then marking it as dead or as “cannot be determined” would solve the problem if you’re interested in the species’ activity pattern.


As one who tends to over-think things, I believe a pinned moth (&etc) is clearly dead. The labels should have the date as to when and where it was captured, and the assumption is that is was alive at that point (although a dead moth can be pinned…). The image we see is dead, no matter how long it has been dead. I have looked at specimens from the early 1900’s, which have been dead for a long time. I urge you to not go down that path, for it can lead to madness!!!


For specimen collected alive, the initial observation at the place and time of collection, is obviously that of an living organism. … (This observation might later be supported with a picture of the collected organism) Such an observation can clearly be annotated as alive (collection time and place should be uploaded to iNat!). It is actually best the observer himself makes this annotation, which prevents others from making different annotations. It might also be a good idea to signal, that the picture is only supportive evidence and not the picture of the initial observation.

For specimen in collections, where time and place of the observation uploaded to iNat are not the time and place of collection, but time and place of the encounter of the dead specimen in the collection (e.g. in the Museum), things are obviously different. Annotation should be dead and probably even “captive” under these circumstances.
This second case is obviously less than ideal, but people do upload encounters they make e.g. in Natural history museums. Which means it might be good to mentioned how to deal with them.


With plants, it is useful to know if the plant observed was dead. It also allows for tallies of dead plants in an area at a certain time.

For that matter, I usually note in Description or a tag if it is unwell, drought-stressed, stressed by weed invasion ,etc.

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I just wanted to say that as someone who spends a lot of times on beaches looking for mollusks or their shells washed up, many of the things I photograph are dead (empty) shells. A photograph of a live mollusk is sometimes what a person really needs to look at, so the ability to sort by whether the critter is alive or dead is really useful then.


Public lands rep here. Chiming in.

I really wanted to advocate for the Alive/Dead Annotation when annotations were in development because I saw a few beneficial outcomes of its use:

  • Road Kill (for cleanup and response)
  • Beachings (marine mammals, same as above)
  • Invasive species (for vegetation, it could be useful to see if a treatment is effective; for animals, if there is an active population)
  • Wildlife Health (like CWD, WNS, mange) and to help calculate mortality/ identify public health concerns

Those are great examples for when the annotation could be useful going forward. However, for museum collections, and for perennial plants in the winter, and for some other issues, it’s problematic because folks will annotate things anyways and skew results.

The good news is that the data we’re looking for are always subjective to filters we set, and more often than not, we aren’t going to use the annotation information on a collections-oriented sample as opposed to a really recent observation from the field.


I agree that an animal is “alive” if it was alive when first encountered. But I like the idea of being able to filter out photos of “collected” animals.

Perhaps we need a third category “Alive before I collected it”?


A specimen encountered in a museum, whether alive or dead, is undeniably “captive” because the location is unlikely to be one where that species would be found in nature. And the fewer such observations, the better.

Nancy … Well that´s the reason museum specimen have labels ;). In case you use the data on the label, the observation might not be captive but wild, depending on the circumstances of the original collection. That´s certainly a different discussion that might continue in one of the many treads on “captive-cultivated” … in case there is still somebody out there, who has not already heard enough of that!


It might be better for you, but there are many of us that appreciate them for what they are. A specimen labelled in a museum is no less valid as evidence of the existence of an organism at a time and place than a lump of poo out in the field. In fact, it is better evidence because it is accurate for alive at that place at the date on the label, whereas the poo is only going to be accurate if you saw it excreted.


When I said “the fewer such observations the better” I was referring back to mreith’s comment:

I of course share your belief in the value of specimens in museums. I also strongly support the inclusion of legacy records on online databases such as BAMONA [] and

But iNat is limited to one’s own observations. If I visit the British Museum and see a specimen collected in 1910 in the Galapagos, surely all I can record on iNat is my encounter with the specimen in 2020 in London.


ah, that makes more sense now. My apologies, it does frustrate me when others jump in on conversations without the understanding the context, I should be more careful myself!

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Sometimes it is useful to look at the lengthy list of DarwinCore terms used/promoted by GBIF-TDWG
Have a look at the BasisOfRecord field. Perhaps an additional observation field could be added to specimens to indicate that they were ‘preservedSpecimens’.