Enable Mimicry complexes to reach research grade despite not being closely related

Description of need:
Research grade observations can be achieved above species level if a Taxon is agreed by the community and the DQA ticks ‘No, it’s as good as it can be’. But where an observation may only represent one member of a mimicry complex (sometimes only one of two members), their mutual Taxonomic level may be so high as to be useless. Mimicry is an interesting research topic and knowing there are observations of members of a particular mimicry complex may be valuable for following up by researchers, even where there is uncertainty about which member the observation is of.

Meiacanthus vittatus uncertain
Idolatteria simulatrix certain

Feature request details:
Looking visually like a Hybrid when entered, the species in the Mimicry complex would have an ‘m’ instead of an ‘x’ between them and could reach research grade on the same basis, but without having to ID the observed specimen exactly.

Mimicry complexes will usually have referenceable literature and a mechanism to enable curators to create them on request can be built in.

Limits can be placed to allow organisms but not their excreta (etc) into the complex.

A “mimicry complex” isn’t a thing taxonomically and so it wouldn’t fit into the way taxa are structured on iNat. It’s not just a matter of how the name is displayed (like subbing an ‘m’ for an ‘x’), but higher taxonomic levels to the nearest node for two distantly related mimics would need to be created, which would be a mess. Additionally, it is rare for mimics to look so similar that they can’t be distinguished with a decent photo.


I get the goal of making these observations useful for research purposes. However, I don’t think that changing iNaturalist’s taxonomic system is the way to do it. Both new users and expert uses would be extremely perplexed by something like “Danaus m Limenitis” for a butterfly that can’t be determined to be a Monarch or Viceroy because of the resolution.

IMO, the best way to do this is through an umbrella project of traditional projects or through observation fields.


For my group, the fungi, then there are very many mimicry complexes where most species cannot be distinguished without microscopy, or detailed ecological information that most iNat users don’t provide, and sometimes sequencing is necessary. Often the species in these mimicry complexes are not closely related, and sometimes they are in different genera. This is certainly a problem, and better photos won’t solve it. Neither in my opinion is a ‘mimicry complex’ the solution because, as pointed out, it is not a taxonomic unit and therefore cannot be accurately placed in the iNat taxonomic hierarchy, other than as a child of the common denominator (sometimes a family), thus removing the child taxa, from their correct taxonomic positions. The only current solution is the use of fields.

Whether such records reach RG is a separate issue. Currently all observations at the rank of species complex are bumped to genus level before being exported to GBIF, which is another issue for the broader use of such data.

Personally, I would like to see a separate classification for entities like mimicry taxa, and vernacular names, especially that apply to multiple taxa (including plant diseases, indigenous names etc). A separate classification would be cross-linked to the Linnean hierarchy but independent from it. A complex solution I know, but that is the reality of how these names are used.


This would be really cool, but I don’t think iNaturalist will ever adopt parallel taxonomic systems.

My opinion on the best-case scenario is that observation fields become easier to search by. No clue on how to do that, all I know is that right now it can be a chore and it took me several years to organically discover.

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As far as I know, “Research Grade” is mostly a designation to note which observations will be shared with GBIF, and I don’t think this would fit their taxanomy.
I also don’t think lack of RG observations would keep researchers who wanted this type of data from using iNat records. For example, if I’m looking for a rare species that I know is regularly misidentified as a common one, I just go in and manually search the common species observations for what I want.
I also agree that a project for your groups of interest could be a good way to draw attention to them.


As an identifier I can certainly see that recognizing mimicry complexes would make my life easier! However, they don’t fit into the taxonomic framework used by iNaturalist. Perhaps a better way would be to tag all members of a given complex, or create collection projects for them. (Well, collection projects wouldn’t work, since sometimes only one sex or morph or live stage is part of the complex. Traditional projects could. But if we’re doing that much work, tags might be no worse.)


It would be useful if you could setup a project to automatically include observations that have a specific field. But that currently isn’t possible - is it?


There is a feature request to expand the option for Collection Project filters which includes observation fields: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/add-tags-observation-fields-threatened-status-description-choice-s-to-populate-collection-projects/8639

As for the main topic of this post, I agree with the the responses about mimics not fitting into the taxonomy system. Other than that I agree it would be nice if species complexes could automatically get RG, but that’s been vetoed by staff: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/make-observations-with-a-species-complex-level-community-id-automatically-become-research-grade/15226


I agree with others that I don’t think mimicry complexes are reasonable as endpoints or for RG (unless they otherwise meet the criteria).

RG effectively means “exported to GBIF” and removed from Needs ID. If GBIF doesn’t have the groups (which I don’t think it does), that becomes pointless to some extent. Ticking “As Good as Can Be” will remove the observation from the Needs ID pool.

I agree that observation fields or tags (depending on which taxa make up the group) are probably the best way to handle these types of groups.


This similar to past requests concerning lichens, mangroves, butterflies/moths, and others.
They’re immediately recognizable as a specific category, and it would be extremely useful to have a way of distinguishing that category to facilitate identification, but each of these is polyphyletic, and as such iNat has no way to categorize them together.

For these previous requests and discussions the solution has often been to make a special project limited to the subset of species that falls within each category. THis is a lot of work and is a hassle, at present that’s been the way around this issue,.

You could make a project titled something like “Coral Snakes and Coral Snake Mimics” and only allow the subset of species into that, but I think that would require manually adding each observation.


You can create a collection project and manually add each species but then the filter will work automatically after that. I know of projects like that for carnivorous plants, trees in general, lichens, mangroves, etc. With large groups (e.g. trees or succulents) the number of taxa you need to account for with inclusion and exclusion filters is kind of impossible to keep up with, but for smaller groups it’s pretty simple.


If the resolution is so bad that the presence or absence of a black arc spanning the entire hindwing can’t be determined, I doubt that it could seriously even get that far. Still, I see your point, as we could use, for example, “Battus m Limenitis” in the same way for Pipevine Swallowtail vs. Red-spotted Purple – the presence or absence of tails might be affected by wing damage as well as resolution. That one would be stuck all the way back at Papilionoidea, because unlike the Monarch and Viceroy (both Nymphalidae), these taxa are in different families.

The suggestions for a collection project seem doable for a small complex, but this does raise the question of how big can a mimicry complex be?


I’m going to close this request. It’s an interesting use case but I don’t think iNat will group taxa in mimicry complexes.

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