Does anyone else get bothered by how many observations are marked as "unknown species"?

I think what @wolfram06 means is those cases where the typo leaves the observation at “Unknown” and the misspelling is left as a placeholder, not that there is a new taxon created with a misspelled name


I noticed! And I’m really sorry about those Araucaria cones. I looked at them and thought, “That’s a weird cactus”, and so it was.


As others have said, I think there many reasons for this, and I think almost none of time could one easily ascribe it to laziness. Let’s make sure to assume others mean well unless we have strong evidence there’s another motivation.


It took me a while to figure out I could apply a higher-level taxon to my records where I wasn’t even sure of the order or family. Especially true for me with plants. I probably picked up on that “trick” reading the Forum, which not all iNatters read. And not all iNatters necessarily grasp the hierarchical nature of scientific classification.


I would like to second that ‘assume others mean well’. There may be some malicious actors out there, but I believe that most folks either don’t know what to do or have other reasons for doing so. As I say, I think it’s something we just have to accept!


most of who bother me are when a bunch of students upload a ton of unknowns, often from gardens where the sign in the image has the species on it (and not always native, because, garden!). They seem to go in groups so you get 10 photos of the same tree all uploaded as unknown by different accounts. Repeat ad nauseum. It adds up fast and can sometimes be hundred or more unknowns since so many students upload the same one.

I know a few professors, and they have projects so they can keep tabs on their students which is great because then too if there is a student causing issues (I’ve run into a few mouthy ones, a few who refuse to do any work to ID continually leaving it on unknown because “thats your job not mine(students)” even after that nice onboarding message of iNat replies, etc) there is someone to let know, and the issue stops.

But a LOT I see for my state - both high school and college level courses -using iNat with their students who don’t do any of that…I just wish they did a better job onboarding their students; that there was a way to figure out who was the teacher (maybe the teacher/prof doesn’t even know how it works?); something.

If I get too annoyed I end up just saying ‘reviewed’ to the whole page to make it go away. I can only do so many hundreds of unknowns that are botanical garden plants, or easy things like squirrels, deer, and chipmucks before I am just Done with capital D, haha.

The random new user having unknowns I understand; especially as someone who downloaded the ap to try it and could not get it to work well, and will continue to only use the website! It’s these huge groups of students making massive bulk unknown uploads that annoy me because they could and really should know better (if their teach/prof onboarded them right, which I don’t think is occurring in many cases).



1 Like

While it’s impossible to speak for everyone, an individual’s experience prior to using iNaturalist can influence how they use the site.

For example, the Korean citizen science sites Naturing and Moyamo are more popular here than iNaturalist and both only have two identification options – species-level names or “I don’t know” classifications. Anyone accustomed to those sites trying out iNaturalist might be in the habit of not including any sort of identification because that’s what they’re used to from their past experience.

Similarly, you might get people joining iNaturalist whose previous experience with crowd-sourced identifications might be Facebook or reddit and posts with titles like “Found in home, what is it?”. There might be more information in the comments but there’s less emphasis placed on adding a rough preliminary identification at the time of posting. (Or, perhaps more accurately, less chance of being corrected for not including that information.)

Sure, clicking inside the text box on iNaturalist gets the CV started, but that only works if you know to click inside the text box. Moving from one environment (website) to another typically involves adjusting behavior, which can take time and some gentle educating as to what behavior is desired/ most helpful.

Having said that, I do understand the frustrations involved in going through page after page of unknown observations – I’ve described it as a Sisyphean feat myself in the past – but as others have said, it can be helpful to take periodic breaks from unknowns to keep from feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, depending on mood.


Yes, it currently isn’t well explained for the different platforms. While there seems to be a plan for better “onboarding”, until that is developed for all platforms, new users really cannot be blamed if they do not comply to a “standard”.

1 Like

Sorry my comment seems to have got lost in translation. 2 separate cases.

  1. Tiny typo so the observer couldn’t find the species. I add the intended species with a comment ‘Placeholder’

  2. They know the species, but it is not yet on iNat. Find the POWO link and flag for curation.

PS when I am IDing Unknowns I check - if it is someone new I try harder to be kind and helpful. If they have thousands of obs, maybe they missed this one - if they can’t be bothered - me either - nextnextnext. Observers and identifiers need to work together and help each other.


I realised the other day that I had an observation of a Mallard without an ID. As it turned out, it was a leftover from around 2019 when iNaturalist had a bug where it would upload a second copy of an observation, without any fields (no location, no ID). Sometimes it would also upload a downscaled copy of the original photo.

While I’ve removed the duplicate now, I wonder if there are some other observations on the platform that are uploaded due to bugs in the website or the app, that could be cleaned up — provided we can find that it’s a clear duplicate, by comparing with photos by the same uploader.

Other times, there were bugs on the web uploader, where sometimes when you grouped photos together, some photos would be uploaded twice, once with a lower resolution. Sometimes, instead an empty observation was created, with no photo at all. What I’m saying is, maybe some of these observations are made without the owner even realising they are uploaded, like in my case.

Or, yet another case, is when I try to use the app, but there is bad connection, or no connection at all, so selecting an ID won’t work (that feature requires an internet connection). The observation is left in the app, waiting to be uploaded. Then, once I’m back on the home wifi, I open iNat, refresh the view and suddenly it uploads everything as-is. I had this a few times, then I had to ID my observations in a later step.


That said, I think iNat could do a better job taking care of these. For example, one could build a robot account that tries to ID these observations based on a computer vision model. And this could even be a more expensive model, as it need not give real-time results. Then suggest an ID (maybe be more conservative), that would at least connect it to the top identifiers in the taxa.

For example, I know many folks who go out of their way to identify every single bird observed in certain locations. But they’d only look for observations marked as “Birds” or more specific. If a CV model could go through unknown species, and mark the birds as birds, they’d quickly be routed to the right folks for further identification. And even if there’s a mistake, and there’s no bird — the person would likely still be able to ID it further.

This however would require some changes in the identification system: such a robot account should be able to propose identification, but its ID should not count towards the “research grade” status.


There’s an old saying - You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. I’m not sure how iNat is commonly used in Education, but perhaps if a pass/fail grade was based on at least a rough ID it might motivate students more? I’m just thinking out loud here.
There is an interesting thread here - Long term student engagement with iNaturalist (what students do after the class is over) - Educators - iNaturalist Community Forum. I remember my own student days though, and if I didn’t like something and was forced to take it, I just didn’t do the work!
It is also worth keeping in mind that there a great number of fantastic young people on iNat who know more than an old fart like me.
I look at students like you mentioned as I do the weather - I may not like it, but there’s not much I can do about it! As I’ve said above, iNat is an open platform, so this sort of stuff is just like the weather.


Did you “take charge” of IDing the observations in a given geographic space? Or of a given event?

I’m thinking about trying to clean my city of “unknowns”, but I haven’t had the time yet


I started with the Cape Peninsula, because that is where I hike each week. It is a win win, I get to see what is blooming for this week, and the Unknowns go down.

The Western Cape is a cautious learning curve to many species I don’t know, but I can point some in the right direction. And learn some new ones for the future. Also away from the big city, rural observations can go sadly unnoticed.

The Rest of Africa is daunting but I get responses from specialists and that encourages me to persevere. iNat is addictive.


Although I am by no means an expert, I ‘take charge’ of identifying Canadian Noctuidae or at least 5 subfamilies. I’m not great with Western Canadian Noctuidae. All those elevations and different ecosystems. Some genera I am complete crap with (i.e. Lithophane spp), so avoid. Although I love identifying, it can be a thankless task!


We have as much robot involvement as we want, I’d think: we have the computer vision model. If some people are choosing not to use it (and I don’t think that’s the case for these masses of students, but I also don’t think they’re the main user body for iNat) then I don’t think they’ll want to be overridden.


I started with birds (I’m pretty familiar with most Portuguese birds), and now try to learn new species every week. It’s hard, but step by step I’m learning (like you said, the learning curve is not easy to climb).

As for the Unknowns, I took an hour today and cleaned most unknowns in my municipality. Next stop, the district! Thanks for the idea!


Personally, I think iNat should start requiring an ID in order for an observation to be uploaded.


Yes, at least for their first 30 observations — I think if a new user hits upload with no ID, a pop-up should appear that forces him/her to choose something general (such as the class or kingdom, for example) before allowing the upload to complete/save. Then they’d know that (A) they are allowed to make their own ID, and (B) it can be a general ID. The pop-up could briefly explain that their ID can be changed or withdrawn after-the-fact, if desired.