Handling Top Identifier Status for Deceased iNatters

In September of this year I sent an iNat message to one of the top identifiers of Orange-Crowned Warblers asking for help. I chose that person because even though I did not know him personally, I knew he was very well known as a birder and was well regarded as an exceptionally helpful, kind person.

A few weeks after sending the message, I was saddened (and admittedly embarrassed) to learn that he had passed away in January of this year.

I know that curators have no way of knowing when an active iNatter dies, but if a curator is informed of a death, is there some way to prevent the names of deceased people showing up as Top Identifiers?

It would also be nice to put some type of memorial on their profile page.


I think this is not an unreasonable request. I’ve had this type of communication glitch happen to me once, attempting to correpond with an iNatualist who isn’t with us any more.
I am also personally familiar with this particular situation. There were a number of journal posts and memorials uploaded to iNaturalist, but a note about the person’s passing was only added to the person’s profile page some time later.


probably not, since there is no mechanism to record when a user is deceased. there was a feature request related to deceased users a while back, and i think this is relevant takeaway from that:

i don’t think a long-inactive indicator has been implemented yet, but the existing profile page does show the last day a person was active. so i think it’s a good idea to check that anyway before you message anyone with whom you haven’t already established a relationship.


Good idea. I will check the profile page first.

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This seems like a self-correcting issue. Living or dead they remain the top identifier until someone surpasses them, and if they’re no longer with us then someone else will eventually surpass them.

I don’t really see it as a problem, and, in a way, it’s a bit of an ephemeral monument to them.


But if you tag a person after their death, it’s like a disregard of their passing away, and if they’re the only big ider of a group, it can take years to overcome their accomplishments.


Tagging the top person isn’t always the solution to find help for an ID as sometimes they are only top because they identify the taxon in their local areas only and might not have expertise to help you.

Also you can always check the recent identifications of someone from their profile, so, in case of a deceased person, you’ll see a stop in their ID activity.


I guess one can choose to see it like that or not. Personally, I’m happy to be tagged whenever. Tagging me after my death (not planned anytime soon, but who knows) only comes with the disadvantage that I’ll be significantly less likely to respond.

I guess a flag might be useful, but if that’s not going to happen for understandable reasons, last activity should work as well. Personally I rarely tag people who I only ‘know’ as top IDers. I only do that when I need correction support somewhere and in that case I often tag 3 people or so and don’t really expect all of them to respond.


I just think with big users it’s not that hard to connect real person and their account, it was all discussed in that old topic, but I still can’t agree there’s nothing can be done by iNat to accounts like that, just adding a black ribbon through the photo would be enough to let others know.


If someone is going to go through the trouble of tagging another user to help them with an ID, that person can also go to the tagged person’s profile page to see if they’ve been active recently. Shouldn’t be a burden to take that extra step.

Lots of reasons a person might not be currently active on iNat and unavailable as an identifier – health reasons, other responsibilities, they’ve left iNat … and, yes, being deceased.

Just yesterday, I inquired about having a person review a manuscript of mine only to find he’d passed away three months ago. I should’ve known he was gone but didn’t. So that was pretty sobering.

In this case (I believe it’s who is being referred to), there is a memorial on his profile page and elsewhere:

Added note: I agree with others here that if a person earned the spot as Top Identifier of a species through their work as a reviewer, they should hold that spot even if deceased or otherwise no longer active on the site. It’s up to the person tagging that identifier to check to see if they’re still active on iNat.


I can certainly understand where you’re coming from - from a utilitarian point of view, having currently active people on the “top identifiers” list is much more useful. Still, I kind of like the thought that their rank sits there as a little a memorial until someone else eventually takes the rank.

Also, speaking as a top identifier myself, there are many reasons why I might not respond to a tag and being dead is just one potential among them. I think the “top identifier of _____ category” needs to be reworked a bit. For example, I’m the world’s top identifier of the genus Rubus, but I only know like 5 species and they’re all in California. People just post a lot of them, so I ID a lot of them. But because my name is at the top of the list, I’m constantly getting tagged for rubus IDs from England to India, and I haven’t a clue about them…


I agree with the remark that always viewing a person’s profile before tagging them is best practice. There are many other additional reasons why this is important, and not just that the person isn’t active. In some cases a person might be top in a particular taxon, but only in a different region, and they might actually not know anything at all about the region in question.

I have had people tag me like this about plants in Africa, and I’ve been helpless…there might be some taxon that occurs both there and in North America, and I know the plants here very well but know nothing at all about the African plants. Much more commonly, this happens with eastern and western North America.

In my experience, most top identifiers have information in their profile about their region and/or realms of expertise. Often, I have to sift through a long list and I find the best people to tag might be as low down as positions 7, 8, or 9, for taxa that are more common, and thus more identified, in some other region.

Also I wanted to add, you can avoid some of this problem by filtering your leaderboards by region!


Vote for this? https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/show-top-identifiers-by-continent-by-default/15310


I still have a lot to learn about iNaturalist. I didn’t know I could filter by region. That will help. Thank you.


Yes! The person I tagged died in January, almost a full year and still on the list of top identifiers and likely to be there a while longer.

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You are correct that there is a memorial on his profile page. If I had checked the page, I would have known. I am beginning to understand a bit better how to use this site. I thought the whole purpose of the top identifier list was to provide a list of people to contact for ID help, but there is a lot more to it - region, recent activity, and probably other considerations.


Yes. I will be checking profiles from now on. Thanks.

A black ribbon might be just as difficult since part of the problem seems to be knowing when someone has died ( or for whatever reason is no longer doing IDs) and if known, how to verify the account of that person.

But, It would likely be easy to add a column with date of “Last ID Activity” alongside the names of the Top Identifiers. If I can look it up, a computer can do it faster.

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Good one. LOL I don’t think Greg cares that I tagged him.?. But I did feel embarrassed.

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