Documenting insect herbivory

I want to annotate observations of caterpillars/grasshoppers/leaf beetles/etc that are feeding or dwelling on a plant to indicate the plant-insect association. The eventual goal would be to annotate every relevant observation in my state (MS) so that I could get data on the most commonly observed plant-insect interactions. I would also like to help gardeners attract insects to their yard, including non-Lepidopterans, by advising them to plant certain native species that attract insects.

I’ve found awesome projects such as and, but I can’t find which method of annotating a host plant is preferred. Between “Name of Host Plant” and “Interaction->Herbivore of” and the half-dozen other options, which is standard (if any of them are)? Are there any existing projects to which I could contribute?



If you’re going to use the data by yourself, it doesn’t matter which one you choose, you can add all three or only ome, as long as you can use it and search with it.
If you wish to gather data from one place, it’s better to set up your own project like this one, but there’re quite a few if you search for “host” or "association (-ed)“ or by looking at already annitated observations.

I used “Interaction->Visited flower of” just the other day and it worked fine for me. The problem of course is now I’m dependent on a field that is controlled by another user. If he or she changes it, or deletes it…well, I may lose all my work. That’s why you see so many choices. People would rather create a new field than become dependent on an existing one.

Not all people would. I would rather use existing ones because why reinvent the wheel? In fact, I wish I could encourage more people to do the same, so as not to have such a plethora of redundant fields.


I like Host Plant ID because it lets you (or makes you) link to the plant’s iNaturalist taxon. This provides some protection from typos or ambiguous common names, especially if different people are using the field. It’s also nice because if you’re looking at the herbivore observation and want information about the plant, you just click on the link

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Some annotations are more popular, I prefer to use the current popular versions rather than carving out a niche that nobody else will use.

In terms of existing data, another source is Many people have been recording this data for years.

iNat has a long relationship with a data aggregator focused on interactions. Observations with appropriate annotations (like nectar plant, host plat and the many “interaction” variants) are automatically collected bu GloBi.

You can see the indicator for it In this observation, down near the bottom of the page by the data quality assessment:

Following the link will take you here where you can search for interactions:

Yes, there’s no standard here, but it makes sense to use a field that’s well used by others in your area of the world, and that does what you need. The GloBi database will harvest the relevant taxon fields from iNat, so you at least want a field that lets you enter an iNat taxon name (rather than a text field that takes whatever text you type in).

“Interaction->Herbivore of” does that (disclaimer: I made that field) and so does “Host Plant” whereas “Name of Host Plant” just takes typed text so won’t get sucked into GloBi.

If a relevant project doesn’t exist for your state or corner of the US, you could consider making one. It will need to be a Traditional Project for it to require or recommend observation fields.

Turning clusters of iNat fields with the same function into single standard fields would be an amazing thing to do, but it would be a big job, as it would require retrofitting a lot of projects and updating a lot of observations. The useful first step is not to make more fields that do the job of existing fields.


I should also mention the helpful field “Associated observation”, which takes the iNat url of an associated observation (for example a photo of the host plant). There are a few other fields out there doing the same thing. Using one of these, and making a separate observation for both interacting taxa, helps people to check and correct the IDs of both taxa.

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Reference URL is another one

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