How do observations get "stuck"? What's the criteria?

I’ve been trying to help out by looking at observations and trying to narrow their ID a little bit so they can reach the right people for a more precise ID.

I’ve noticed a few observations where people seem to agree on an ID on some level but the observations are still labelled “animals” or even “life”. For example, I’ve seen a couple of bird observations where people have IDed the exact species but they don’t show up as that species at all, not even as “Aves” or anything.

Why is this? Is there some criteria? I know that a species-level ID getting verified requires at least two identical IDs but what else? What are the requirements for other taxonomic levels? Is this a bug or is it normal for observations to get “stuck” like this?

Thank you!


iNat identification is driven by volunteer users. Just as observations are made by anyone, so are identifications. It could be that in the area you’re looking at, there’s a lack of bird enthusiasts. Another possibility is lack of detail in a specific observation, making it more likely to be ignored.


You need over 2/3 of identifiers to agree with the ID. For example, if someone posts an ant as a spider, and two people disagree (they suggest ants), it’ll still be left at arthropods. If another person agrees with it being an ant, then it’ll be set to ants, because 3/4 (>2/3) people agree. On an observation, next to “Community Taxon” it says “What’s this?” and has more information about how it works. If I’m misinterpreting what you’re asking, can you put some examples? I know subspecies IDs don’t work the same as species IDs, and need more agrees, for one.


Maybe I didn’t explain myself well, I’m not asking about observations that are left unIDed by users. I’m referring to situations where people have made IDs but the record hasn’t changed to reflect it.


Thanks! So (for example) if someone posts a bird as an animal and two people ID it as whatever species, shouldn’t it get changed to that species or at least birds in general? I’ll look at that “What’s this?” thing, thank you!

The usual issue is that the observer has clicked “Opt out of community ID.” Then it won’t change, no matter how many ID’s people add.


As long as the existing IDs don’t actually disagree with each other, and the user hasn’t opted out of community ID as @sedgequeen said, the displayed ID should be the most specific proposed ID. There is an exception to this rule for subspecies, which is much discussed elsewhere on the forum but I admit I still don’t understand (if one person says “Reptile” and another person says “Dipsosaurus dorsalis dorsalis”, the displayed ID is (sometimes?) left at “Reptile”).

I believe there are also occasional bugs where a particular observation does get “stuck” at an ID that doesn’t match the rules. The site administrators have a way to “re-index” that observation to fix its incorrect ID.


I know what you mean in those cases where it’s stuck at a lower-level taxon even with a few agreeing IDs at a more specific level. I’ve had a few of those recently. I would normally expect things to work the way sullivanribbit just described, but others that have not. Here’s an example:

Until I added the most recent ID, the observation taxon was still at “coleoptera.” Now, it has simply moved up to Melandryidae. This seems odd to me in that both the Coleoptera and Melandryidae IDs do not disagree with Emmesa connectens. Looking at the community taxon details, it seems that this is because there are a total of 4 IDs, and three out of those four actively support the family level, but only two out of the four actively support the species. If the “Coleoptera” ID wasn’t there at all, it would be two out of three supporting the species and the observation would be research grade. In an example like this, that particular math seems a little counterproductive, but what can you do?


Yeah, I think my explanation is probably oversimplistic, and I don’t understand the nuances fully. I think it’s explained in detail somewhere on the site, but I don’t know exactly where (and generally don’t care quite enough to work too hard trying to understand it).

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I’m also noticing in the brief glossary under the community taxon details that “ancestor disagreement” is defined as “# of identified taxa that are among a taxon’s ancestors, but disagree with the taxon (ie “I think its in the genus but I disagree its that species”)”

This would indicate that the original “coleoptera” ID which was added as disagreeing with Buprestidae is also being counted as disagreeing with Melandryidae and Emmesa connectens, which were added as IDs later. If that’s the case, doesn’t that seem like a backwards way for disagreeing IDs to function? Shouldn’t they only “disagree” with the IDs that existed before they were added? Maybe someone can explain why it’s structured that way?


Ah yeah, that happens whenever there’s a disagreement, even if the previous ID is withdrawn. I think it’s intentional but I’m not sure.

Occasionally someone has quickly entered an ID and clicked on the term that comes up, but it’s in the wrong kingdom. So for instance one can find Smilax plants that have the ID of Smilax, a beetle. Other people may put Smilax the plant, but it still gets stuck at “life” because the IDs are in two different kingdoms.

To summerize what has already mentioned, I think the 3 most common causes are

  1. observer has opted out of community ID, therefore nothing anyone else says can count towards the overall ID
  2. the subspecies problem, which staff says isn’t a bug, it’s intentional, but still doesn’t make sense to most people
  3. rarely, an actual bug, in which case changing anything on the observation page should trigger reindexing that will fix it (often I upvote “evidence of organism” because it’s easy and harmless)

Ancestor disagreement and iNat doesn’t like subspecies forces us into clunky workarounds.

Identifiers are being penalised for adding an earlier broad ID in disagreement
Clunk 1 (please withdraw Coleoptera, it’s not wrong but iNat doesn’t like it.

Identifiers are also penalised for using a subspecies. Unless 2 of you agree
Clunk 2 (subspecies ID added as ‘supporting’ - then iNat is happy again. Unless there is still ancestor disagreement, then iNat wins again.

Fighting against the iNat system is not an effective use of (limited) identifiers.


I added a ‘supporting’ ID. That is an ancestor disagreement iNat problem.
Another solution is to ask the identifier to withdraw their disagreement - which makes no sense. They are disagreeing with the previous ID. iNat makes disagreeing identifiers appear as if they are disagreeing with ALL the Subsequent IDs just because! That is wrong.


I’m not 100% sure about this but I’ve noticed when someone ID’s something as a subspecies, it doesn’t update it and keeps it at the highest previous ID.

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As said, it means community id is upted out.
@galxe that’s normal, ssp ids don’t change community taxon.

With one caveat: I have seen it take more than that if someone explicitly disagrees when making a broader ID. Say it was identified to species; someone else agrees (for Research Grade); but then a third person says, “No, but I’m sure it is (Family)”. I have been the fourth person, who agrees with the original genus but not species; yet it still remains at family. If it was just 3/4 majority, it should have gone to genus when I offered mine. Something about being bumped back to family seems to override this.

It’s working the same way, if there’s a disagreement with any common ancestor, you need to get 3/4 of people to agree on that too.

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In my example, 3/4 agree on the genus (just that two of them did so before the disagreement), so I don’t understand what you are saying.