Excessive observing?

Just in case you aren’t aware of this, you can choose to mute a particular user, which might be a helpful option in a case like this.


There’s no right or wrong in this regard unless you adding misleading info, or like 20 pictures of the same the thing taken exactly after each other as 20 observations… but with date, the more, the merrier… when people do research they know how to interpret the data from the pictures so they will pick up on thing you might not have even noticed when you took the picture… just try be consistent (I usually revisit the same areas often and I end up getting multiple observations of one species in those areas (sometimes close together) this bothered me at first, but now many many observations later I have noticed how my observations of say ‘X’ species is grouped up in some areas, spread out in others, etc. so I have indirectly mapped out quite an accurate picture of these species densities in the area… some rarer plants I observe every (or almost every one) I see, the one species I have in mind while telling this story is usually found in small colonies and in very specific conditions (was believed to only be found in the shade under rocks on S facing slopes), so I ended up with quite a lot of observations grouped up in a few colonies, and one day a guy told me that because I have been observing every plant I see they were able to confirm some of the work they did on the plant and its colony size which they could then apply to other observations of the species to work out an estimate of the plants population size, they also found that the colonies were actually all facing west in gully walls on the S facing slopes (perpendicular to the ridge opposed to parallel like they thought before) from my observations so they ended up finding the plants more than before when they believed they were strictly S facing… I literally didn’t know any of this at the time of observing the plants (it actually helped them so much that the guy took the time to tell me how grateful he was for my observations), and I felt guilty when I observed every plant thinking it was probably excessive), so you can’t go wrong with more data even if you think it is excessive, so to your question 1. every species in a 100sqm area will obviously be great 2. every individual is also good data, because then you will be painting a picture of what the area looks like with your data and the plant densities and so on will be easy to determine, any fungi, bacteria, viruses effect the plants/animals will be spotted (as well as the species that are affected) etc. 3. every anthill will show how colonies space out from each other 4. every ant in the will help determine how many worker ants there are, the general health of the colony and the health of individuals and what diseases or viruses effect the ants in the colony/species/area maybe even identifying ones that weren’t considered known to be an issue in the past or even in the area etc. so as you see the more data you capture the more valuable the research is, but also the more difficult it becomes (imagine trying to observe every ant in a hill) if you could it would be of great use to ppl studying that species (and those people probably do have to do something similar over the period of their careers to pulbish papers on the species)

  1. every species in a 100 square meter area is very enough for distributional records of ants, multiple individuals could be put in one obs. regarding ants
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As others have touched on, anything can be “useful” for the right project.

However, if you’re not running your own project/study and are instead focusing on uploading data that you hope will be useful to others, I’d suggest that your #1 is the most broadly useful for several reasons:

  • It probably takes less effort than the others, thus you may find it more efficient
  • Searching for as many species as you can arguably has a higher chance of detecting new/important things that would otherwise be overlooked, especially if you try to focus on underrepresented taxa
  • In my experience, the biases inherent in citizen science data make a lot of scientists hesitant to use it for things like abundance (which is more what your #2 would be getting at)
  • both #3 and #4 would be most useful to such specific an/or localized projects that anyone conducting such research may be more likely to simply collect that info themselves. Looking at something like iNat may not even occur to the leaders of such specific work.

Of course, all of this is my personal opinion, and an attempt to provide as concrete of an answer as possible. Quite hard to try to generalize everything, so I know there will inevitably be many exceptions and examples of projects that successfully took advantage of data more akin to your # 2-4, but I think your #1 would probably lead to the most broadly applicable dataset all things considered.

P.S., ignore all of this if you do have a personal project in mind. The map of medicinal plants you mention would be an excellent reason to pursue a workflow akin to #2 instead, for example.


I think #1 is more than reasonable, it’s pretty similar to what I strive for when I iNat in a small location.
#2 is a bit more case-specific. If a flock of 200 starlings were to fly over your house, you could make 1, 2, heck, I could even understand the reasoning behind up to 5 observations for members in the flock provided you have good enough photo quality to ensure all photos represent different individuals within the flock, even better if it’s an organism where age, sex, etc can be determined.
I’d be even more lenient to something along the lines of “there are two eastern white pine trees in this 100 square meter area, so I have made two observations of eastern white pines,” but again, numbers matter. You don’t need to document every tree in a forest, but documenting the three american chestnuts you see in that forest is, in my eyes, more acceptable (and I’m biased because I like american chestnuts & make a seperate observation for every one I see, unless I’m in an area where I know I’ve made observations of them before).
#3 similarly feels useful to me to at least a degree, unless you have thousands of ant hills in your backyard. Each ant hill could represent a different species, and provided you can get good-quality photos for the ants, would be just as helpful as if they were a mile apart.
#4 is, at least for iNat, a tad excessive. I would fully commend someone for photographing every ant within a colony, but it’s better to just put them all under the same observation. In doing so, data that could be valuable to some doesn’t clog the feed of others.


Every observation is potentially useful.


As others have said, it depends on what the user wants to accomplish.

Personally, I treat my iNaturalist account as a sort of collection of species I have encountered. Basically, like an irl Pokédex. That means, every species I encounter, I post. If I happen to find multiple individuals of the same species with different morphologies or in different life stages, then I post those too (For example: The various colour morphs of Harmonia axyridis). Of course I’ll also have “duplicates” because I cannot remember all the species I have already observed and sometimes I just want to post my prettier pictures, but mostly I have 1 species → 1 or 2 observations.

However, others might use it differently. Perhaps to log every plant of a specific species they find in a certain area or to roughly get an idea of how common which species is.

Neither use-case is more or less valid than the other, in my opinion.


I mostly do the same barring with moths where I record every species found in my trap per night.


The most irritating to me is when a user (one of which has over 100k observations, not a new user) uploads numerous observations with photos taken from within a car, or somehow otherwise while moving, showing various plants which are impossible to make out due to motion blur. I usually put a high taxon plant ID and then check that this is the best ID possible given the evidence, but with over 100k observations, there are so many to go through.


We catch something like 1000-1500 perch, about 1000 pike, several hundred cods and an untold number of coalfish every year, I usually post 1-3 fish per trip we make instead of flooding the page with european perch, also because I can’t be bothered to take a picture of every single fish either.

That’s at least what I feel is proper.


I’ve given a lot of thought to this topic, as to whether I am treating various families with equal interest. I’m not, is my conclusion.
When I first started my property survey, I focused on any new species of any kind. I documented the vast majority of birds I’ve seen within the first year, and have only added new birds or new bird activities or odd colorations since then. Ditto with plants. But I usually photograph all insects I see each day, or I photograph one representative and then note in my comments that there was a flush of “X” number of moths of that species on that night.
By the end of the season, I’ve completely stopped photographing common species, and am only recording the first appearance of the season of a species or any new species.
I take pics daily and only have so much time & energy. So am I as consistent as I’d like to be? NO.
As an identifier for a state-wide moth project I admin, I find identifying 20 uploads of the same species in one night by the same observer tiresome. Especially if the species is a common one and the same observer often uploads multiples. I only have so much time & energy for identifications. But I respect others’ rights to use iNat as they see fit and hope others have more patience than I do.
That’s my two cents. :grinning:


I find that plant photos taken from a moving car can fairly often be ID’d, at least if one is familiar with the plants present in the area and what they look like from a car. It really helps if the weather is bright so the exposure time (and therefore blur) is small. These photos can be useful for mapping because so many interesting plants grow in areas where one really shouldn’t stop the car to take better photos. Therefore, I’m usually OK with people doing this.

However, there is a level of blurriness that makes the photos unidentifiable. It would be nice not to post those. I suppose, though, that the photographer may not know the vegetation well enough to tell identifiable from unidentifiable photos.


That’s how I roll too. If it’s something I’ve never seen before, and maybe not great quality, I’ll post it, just so I can remember what/where and try again later. Also if I think some of the folks who are really expert at that organism might spot it and figure it out with me. I kind of like to have one of everything, even if it is mundane. And, I probably document a little more of my favorites as well. But I also get the argininal question, I have seen someone document every single organism in a field of that organism. If I can, I prefer to get one really good shot of whatever it is, and then one broad shot so researchers could get an idea of volume. BTW, thank you for always being so helpful on my identifications. Much appreciated.


When I’ve seen inat data used in research, it’s been for morphological, spatial, and temporal studies (e.g., how does the appearance of a species differ over a region, where does the species occur, and is the species flowering at a different time than it used to), versus abundance. My twin uses it when she’s doing research (she’s a botanist) to see where people have documented genera of plants so she can then go out and observe them in the field, and maybe even take a voucher. Having 7000 observations of the same plant wouldn’t really be an issue to her, unless they were all mislabeled, and even then, she could ignore the user at fault.


It has probably already been said above, more eloquently, but I want to make sure I cast my vote publicly against “utility” as the ultimate litmus test for making an observation.

Since 2020, I’ve given numerous versions of a talk called “The Data is Not the Destination” (fairly self-explanatory), and as the years have rolled on, I’ve only become more adamant about that assertion.

Although I personally use iNat data for analysis and research, and often find myself irritated by gaps or, alternatively, “overfilled”/'overobserved" data … I am also a contributor of “useless” observations. Those that fill me with delight, a sense of re-visiting an old friend, or which fill some other aesthetic role (a tree that caught my eye while I was on a hike with a romantic partner, and which served as a commemoration of that emotion).

The Calendar view really drives this feeling home – iNat is kind of a repository/chronology/diary of my own experience of my life, as mediated by five senses trained on the living creatures around me.

As I’ve gotten older, and as the world has shifted (especially since the pandemic), my sense of the importance of the “data value” of observations has declined, and the importance of the memories they help me to re-experience has risen dramatically.


I agree. Some researchers put radio collars on animals to track them, to see what there movements are and what environments they travel, so what is wrong with a trail of tracks.

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Personally I see no problem at all with posting as many observations as you like, within the general guidelines of iNat. The core aim of iNat is to connect people with nature, and if that’s by taking thousands of photos of every single organism you encounter, then so be it. There’s no obligation for the data to be useful, and there’s no obligation for identifiers to identify every sighting either.

There’s a user who posts lots of observations in the groups that I ID, and it seems like they just post every single individual they encounter. At first I kind of felt like it was annoying and useless, and yes it is very tedious to get through. But now that I have gotten through all of those IDs it is actually really useful data - it shows when different life stages are around, it shows that multiple similar species can inhabit the exact same area, and it’s helpful to test out what sort of photos are and aren’t identifiable.

So even if the observations that someone is posting seem useless and repetitive, you never know who they will be useful to. And more importantly, if it helps to connect the user to nature then it’s exactly what iNat should be used for!


There’s also people like me, who sometimes accidentally upload the same species over and over because the species often have lookalikes, or because my knowledge is too shaky to be able to tell.

I take photos of leafhoppers at my porchlights. They’re colorful, they’re often surprising in the variety and types there are, and I’ve even netted one or two extremely rare species (not that this is the point of all this, it’s just easy and I have fun doing it).

… this is why I stand in awe of anyone who is able to comb through the leafhopper observations, and I always hope they realize sometimes I’m still unable to tell if one is of a species I’ve already posted a million times.

… also, there’s been many times I’ve gone ‘naw I’ve already done that species’ to find out there’s a specific species in my area that looks extremely similar.


There is a user, I think in Botswana, who takes photos during a bus trip that they take semi-frequently. A lot of the photos are blurry, but often reasonably IDable, and they are providing data from an area that is probably under-sampled, and the regularity of it can possibly show trends too.


Great work!

Likewise, for some endemic species in the Magaliesberg that supposedly have a tight distribution -

  1. Some individuals of one species have been found outside its supposed preferred conditions. It would be nice to explore that small area, and it would be necessary to upload many observations to demonstrate that it’s not a stray individual, and that it actually occurs there.
  2. Some of the endemic plant species are in a bad position, mainly due to poaching, and its not straightforward to monitor them over their range. It’s a single mountain range, that’s mostly private property, and is divided by many canyons. If users could upload every single individual of this species, not only would there be a better population estimate, but the data can be used to work with individual land owners and recreational users.
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