How do I start a discussion on an identification

I have a question for one of the leaders on his ID. What is the right way to open a discussion about his ID.



If I understand your question, you want to ask about an ID that was made by someone who’s listed as a leader for identifying that taxon?

You can comment, “I’d like to understand how you got this ID. Can you tell me what features you’re using? In particular, can you tell me why you ruled out xxx? Thanks!”

That’s likely to get an informative response. Or maybe the person will say “Oops I looked too quickly. It really IS xxx!” Even the leaders aren’t perfect.


Don’t forget to use the @ before the person’s name so they will see your comment. Such as @botanicaltreasures.


I’ve had good luck with Janet’s suggestion, above – but also know that some of the leaders invest almost 100% of their effort into making IDs and don’t engage with the comments much, so if they don’t respond, please don’t take it too personally. (I like to encourage folks to respond, since it helps us newbies learn, but I appreciate that they’re already putting in a ton of effort in other domains.)


I do a lot of IDs for others, and a common way people ask is by just saying “can you please help me get better at this by letting me know how you got to that ID?”

It’s not always an easy answer, a lot of the time I just know the plant, so don’t be discouraged if they’re not able to say a lot. This is also a good way to start a conversation with someone who has given you an ID that you know to be wrong.


Many just “could you explain ID basis?” Tagging username (@) can sometimes help, if it isn’t clear who’s being replied to, but sometimes isn’t needed since many people check notifications for all pages they IDs.


Hi @kitty97 and welcome to iNaturalist!

I’ll second the advice to tag other iNat users by name in your comment. It’s easy for people to disable aspects of the iNat notification system and miss comments on observations they ID’ed.

Actually, it’s even easy to miss some comments when you’ve been tagged by name, which is why I sometimes nudge people after a few weeks or months with a comments such as:

Hi @inat_user Did you get a chance to review the suggested IDs for this observation?

As with any web forum, it’s best to assume good intent and phrase your enquiry as “I’m interested to know what you see that suggests this ID” (rather than “Why would you ever…?”). One great thing about iNat is that almost everyone is happy to engage with other iNat users and share their knowledge. Even when you catch a mistake, most people are more than glad to be able to fix it.


The last part of that is really important for framing the scope of the question. When somebody just asks me “how do you know it’s x?” I don’t have context to know what level they’re operating at and therefore what to teach them. If they can’t tell a robber fly from a dragonfly (family or order level differences), then there’s no point in explaining how to differentiate the dozens of species within a single given genus.

I’ll also second tagging the person with the @ sign, since that helps us notice a comment we should care about. But make sure you spell their name right!


I don’t have too much to add that has not already been said. Tone helps. I initiated a conversation a couple of days ago when a person added a genus name to a moth pupa. I know that these are almost impossible to identify, so replied with “I’m curious - how did you arrive at the ID? These all look alike to me!” It turned out the person was new to moths, so I was able to open a conversation about online resources, and suggest if they still had the pupa they could rear it and see what emerges.
I also know some very experienced taxonomists who can be a little brusque in their responses. It’s nothing personal, just their way. I’m also quite willing to change my opinion. In general, I’ve found most folks enjoy the conversations. It slows down identification speed, but I prefer the interactions - they help us all learn!
Edit - be careful about top identifiers. I’m at the top of the ID board for a number of Canadian moths, but it doesn’t always mean that I know all there is to know about the moths!


This post just made me think of advice for identifiers - link a site where more photos of said plant can be seen - or herbarium specimens if the plant is quite rare.

Yeah, that happens to me, sometimes. I know that this is not species X but rather Y, but I know that difference (hue of the flowers, leaves present at flowering/not present) because I have studied material of the plants/seen them alive, etcetera… but it’s hard to put my reasoning into words. Sometimes.
For example, for someone so enthusiastic as I am with South American Amaryllidaceae, Urceolina (not the genus as a whole, but the species that were formerly Eucharis) is pretty hard to ID without photos of the paraperigone… and even then, most of these look pretty similar: pendulous white flowers.
For that, when I ID, say U. astrophiala, the justification is usually “shape of the “cup” (paraperigone)” since it’s one of the most conspicuous within the genus. But for species without photos or little herbarium records of the flowers, it’s… harder to say.

summary: Don’t try to explain much if you don’t find the words for it: it will get only more confusing. I recommend just linking to more photos of the plant so the observer can compare for himself.


When I ask for more info on how an id was determined, almost 100% is due to my thinking perhaps I can learn to identify this type of organism but I’m struggling with details. In those cases, I provide what I have learned on my own to look for and what I think I can see in the photos and why I’m struggling with a decision (between 2 or more species) or why I’m questioning my own conclusion because it disagrees with the suggested id. I always go on the assumption the id is correct to the best of their knowledge - partly because they likely know more than me (I live in a region with a lot of skilled identifiers) and partly because I want to keep the interaction as positive as possible.

Answers (so far) fall into one these categories

A) oops… I was wrong (very rare! mostly people who identify in my region know their stuff)
B) here’s what I saw or here’s what I know (X not found in Y circumstances, for example)
C) It’s hard to explain - mostly I get a sense from working for X years in the field
D) no response

Those C answers are just as helpful to me as the B answers. It tells me that, after spending some time researching and examining photos, I didn’t ‘miss’ a clear detail and that the skill level utilized was (at that moment) beyond me. It also helps me get a sense of whether I will ever develop that skill or whether it’s likely not one I will acquire. (a factor of my personal abilities and interest level)

So never discount the value of ‘It’s my sense because of .____’ even when the ___ is simply stated. I - as a novice hoping to learn more - find those types of answers helpful. It helps that I have a cadre of people identifying in my state that I trust. If they say it’s so… it’s likely so.


Hah! Many years ago when I was part of a moth pheromone study, we sent specimens to the national (Canada) taxonomic institute (it was called the Biosystematics Research Institute back then). When questioned about an ID the person said ‘it just looks like one’. And sometimes that sums up how an ID is made!


Today I asked why Drimia not Trachyandra.

It just IS.

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@junior84 You make a good point here. I usually use such moments (when I’m unable to explain immediately why something is A and not B) to turn inward and elucidate why I can differentiate two things but can’t explain it. It’s basically looking into that black box which is our brain at work! In actuality, it might involve digging back into relevant literature, manuals, and guides to see what I may have explicitly learned in print but had dropped from conscious memory, and at other times it involves carefully examining two species in excruciating detail to try and figure out what my intuition is telling me. From either pathway, it may benefit me in one of two ways: (a) I might be better able to articulate how I distinguish two things, or (b) I might realize I had been conflating two species previously, and voila, it becomes a learning experience for me.


One thing to add, go on the user page for the identifier in question. On some they will say out right that they get so many notifications that they can’t keep up with them and to send them a message instead.

Also post your question on the observation anyway, I’ve run into quite a few where someone asked a question of someone else that I ended up answering a few days later when I ran into it.


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