How do you decide whether something is "interesting" enough to observe?

New forum user, but I’ve been using iNaturalist casually since 2019. Found out about the forums today and I can finally ask other’s opinions on something that’s been on my mind since joining!

What qualifies to you as something “interesting” enough to observe? I find myself a lot of the time waiting for interesting plants/animals I don’t usually see before making an observation. Usually it’s because I worry about somehow cluttering my account by posting everyday things.

Does anyone else go through this thought process? Do you prefer only observing something unusual for you, or is it more fun/rewarding to observe everything you see? Do people mind scrolling through what’s been observed in an area and seeing mostly common species?

If other people enjoy observing more common species, I think I’m going to start doing that too instead of holding myself back waiting for the next cool thing to pop up. :slightly_smiling_face: It’s definitely a mental block I’ve had for a long time when choosing what to observe, and I’d really like to change that.


Edit for the morning! Lots of wonderful replies and perspectives here, thank you all so much. It’s really nice to see the reasons everyone has for their observations, whether you choose to upload everything or have a narrower focus. I’m personally going to be documenting the common species around here too now as long as I can get a nice, identifiable photo if it. It’ll be fun to learn to ID what’s around me every day for a change.

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There’s all manner of points of view for what counts as interesting, so I would would just take what you find interesting in that moment, be it a taxon that you like, or a site that you like to visit (upload everything you see there), or something that you don’t know what it is, or something that you’re trying to learn more about.

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Yes, please make an observation whenever you feel like it. Don’t feel that it has to be something unusual.

And bear in mind that something quite ordinary to you may be interesting to someone else, especially those who live in another part of the world.

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I don’t observe plants usually unless someone points a particularly interesting one out to me. I generally go for the flying insects, and take photos if a) I can’t identify it just from my eyes, and/or b) it’s something I haven’t seen before, or is uncommon.

I tend to ignore common species like Harmonia axyridis (unless they aren’t moving, in which case I will do some focus stacking for fun).

I don’t mind seeing common species in my identify module, I think it’s good that people take photos of them. I just personally don’t find much interest in certain species since I already have many photos of them, or have a specimen that I can look at whenever I wish.

Now, I’m not suggesting you do as I do, just giving another point of view.

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I often find myself thinking the same thing. I remind myself is that if no one posts observations of common species, then the statistics of iNat’s observations of said populations will be skewed. Additionally, this is a very diverse community of people. We’re all at different areas of our naturalist adventure, and we’re all fascinated by different things. What may seem uninteresting to you may hold different value to another naturalist!

I’m not sure how many researchers etc. use iNaturalist in population surveys, especially for common species (although I’d love to know if and what they use it for!) but I still feel like I’m contributing in some way no matter what I post! And although I’m not a researcher, I enjoy using my observation logs to see which species are most common in specific areas and why. I’ve learned a lot about many different species populations and their habitats purely through my own observations. I hope that those using iNaturalist data for surveys/research might respond to this discussion because I’d love to hear from them as well!

I personally don’t mind scrolling through posts of common species, and this is a very welcoming and inclusive community of people who are usually nonjudgmental and willing to help no matter what you post. We’re all here to learn and connect with fellow lovers of nature! :)

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This is something I thought about too, I’m glad I’m not the only one! As much as I love seeing something I never knew was in my area, it’s always nice seeing common species too.

The commentary here from everyone is appreciated a lot, thank you for the input! I’ll definitely be using this as a chance to get more observations in while finding a balance between uploading everything I see and just what’s interesting.

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When I’m in at overlooked places, I try to record and photographs as much as I can. But if I’m at well know places, as touristic points, I record what is inusual, any organism no well represented in the landscape. I do this because I’m pretty nerd, and try to bridge gap knowledge, focusing on what is needed.

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invasive species are also important to observe!

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That’s a great question! I also agree with the others, that at the end of the day, observe what you want to observe :D I like to observe every new species I come across to build my life list on the site, but I also like to observe common species multiple times for a few reasons.

I tend to take photos of common species for research and management reasons:

  • I like contributing to species lists for parks to potentially help with their management and conservation plans, especially if the park has an iNat collection project I can see my observations contributing to
  • Sometimes adding that common plant species is useful for other people’s insect observations, where it provides knowledge of potential hosts in the vicinity (e.g. knapweed weevil)
  • Many iNaturalist photos can provide secondary data like phenology (timing of events like flowering), body condition and disease status, life stage and sex, species interactions (pollinators-plants, predator-prey, parasite-host), and phenotypic variation in the species (e.g. wing variation in dragonflies), so even common species observations are valuable in my opinion
  • Common weed species can help document invasive species spread and help with early detection
  • I also think that there are still many common species that don’t have enough observations to be included in the iNaturalist Computer Vision Model yet, so I always try to add more observations for species not yet included in the CV model to help improve it.
  • If I’m in a remote area, I try to take that opportunity to iNat everything I can to help with species range maps

Lastly, I sometimes have this nagging thought in my head that the common species now may not be the case in the future, and I want to document that change if I can.

As for encountering common species when identifying, I love it!

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Many iNat users enjoy identifying other peoples’ observations. As an IDer, I enjoy seeing common species because they are ones I can identify confidently and I think most people enjoy having their observations verified and moved to research grade.

Common observations also provide a good way for getting into IDing too, since you’re more likely to identify someone’s observation of something common/familiar to you than something unique/rare.

Lastly, there are people who enjoy identifying families of organisms, for example Carrot Family (Apiaceae) who might filter for the whole family in a state/province, so what might be common in your area (maybe a city?) might be more interesting when observed in a larger area.

TLDR: common lifeforms are fun and educational to ID.

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This year I am trying to do at least one observation each day. It forces me out to look for something. Some days I find really interesting unusual things just because I went out looking for “something”. But other days I end up with an observation of very common species, because that’s all I saw.

It is funny though - I live in an area covered with various eucalyptus species, but if you look at the iNat observations, there are almost no eucalypts in this area!

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Whether something could possibly be identified or not influences whether I bother to upload it. I mostly post microscopic aquatic organisms, and I notice that I avoid uploading observations of diatoms because I know they could be identified if I only put in a bit more work to get the right set of views, which I am usually not motivated enough to do. But I have no problem posting plenty of other things which I have no hope of identifying beyond Eukaryote regardless of how long I spend looking at them.

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i post anything and everything. sometimes you wont even know something is interesting until after you post it

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I think it’s important to consider that gathering research data is not iNat’s only goal. It’s also here to help you foster your own personal connection with the nature around you. Instead of only asking yourself “what can other people get out of this?” ask yourself “what can I get out of this?” Personally, I’ve observed many common species and posted the same species several times for a handful of taxa.

Firstly, I like seeing my species count go up here on iNat. I am a simple woman: I see a number go up and my brain gives me a little hit of dopamine. There are also some species that, while common, I enjoy seeing every time and I like to post things that I like. I have several observations of white-tailed deer and one of a raccoon, for example. Observing a common species repeatedly can help you to remember what it is as well. If I see a species that looks familiar and I find myself thinking “what was that called again?” I post it. I force myself to go back and learn its name again. Learning is key.

There’s also the matter of not knowing what you don’t know. I’ve posted observations here of very small insects that seemed insignificant initially, but I later found out had very few iNat observations or even very few photos online at all. I didn’t realize those photos would be valuable when I took them, but I’m glad I did! Don’t underestimate anything.

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I don’t want to be in the end of observers’ list, so for sure I observe everthing new I can, I generally don’t observe the same specimens unless some interesting circumstances, in a new place everything possible (verifiable) should be documented.

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I think even the most common organisms should be observed and documented if they are found in an unusual environment, locale, having unusual morphology and any other unexpected feature.

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I often go out of my way to observe the “boring” things (not that I think they’re boring, but they are very common). This is because of something I noticed years ago, while going through databases of plant species observations - if you were to create a graph of how often a plant was observed in a place, it’d be an almost perfect inverse of how common it actually is. Everyone wants to photograph the “rare” species of their area, so the far edges of a species’ range have far more records than the areas where it actually grows in abundance.

It also gives weird impressions of how common plants are relative to each other - in my area, the Tiburon Mariposa Lily, a rare flower that exists only in very small numbers on a single hill, has more observations than fennel, a plant that literally grows out of every sidewalk crack.

But for how I choose what to observe on any given day, it varies with what I feel like and how much time I have. Sometimes I want to move faster, and will only stop to photograph a species if I know I don’t have it yet. Sometimes I’ll challenge myself to see how many different species I can record in a single day, and try to take one observation of everything I see. And sometimes I’m just in the mood for one particular species, and make 45 observations of the same orchid species.

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The short answer: Go for EVERYTHING you see. Even the smallest, least conspicuous plant growing in a crack of the pavement is important for the survival of another lifeform and worth recording. And, take pictures of details, stems, leaves, from various angles, and make sure you include a view of the environment where you saw it. Speaking of plants, don’t confine yourself to nice shots of flowers. Please also record what the plant looks like as it dies, dries up, because some other user may find that useful, because the iNat algorithm has to learn too.

The long version: I started getting serious about learning about the plants growing in my yard when I needed to fence out those that could be lethal to plant-eaters (I don’t mean cats and dogs nibbling on the odd leaf, I mean animals that actually live off plants) and realized my knowledge was entirely theoretical – while I knew the NAMES of the plants that could be dangerous, I had NO IDEA of how to recognize them, especially when they were not flowering, which is when you really need to recognize them either to uproot them or fence them out. Books and internet sites are helpful to a point, because most often you only get to see close-ups of flowers. What about when these plants are still small? Or dry? What do their seeds look like?

Phone apps were a bit more useful, but there were issues of reliability. At first I tried out PlantNet, which has some virtues, yet didn’t convince me when I tested it with plants that I knew well. PlantNet is fine for folks who want to know what that lovely plant on that lady’s balcony is called. One app that was more reliable in my experience was Flora Incognita, which seems a bit more knowledgeable about central European plants than PlantNet, and was good with grasses. Ultimately I ended up with iNat because there were actual people checking, one could ask a question and get an answer! :-) It was more like being out there with someone else who was more knowledgeable than me and whom I could learn from.

Yet even on iNat there are plenty of sightings of flowering plants, often without even a view of the stem or the leaves. Lowly, common, uninteresting plants? Much rarer than the rarer plants that people tend to photograph when they stumble over them while out up in the mountains.

Some of the plants growing in my yard that I knew to be pretty common had no observations in my area. It wasn’t the plant that was rare, what was rare was people considering them important enough to be photographed.

That is huge failure, if you ask me. Because if we seriously wish to conserve biodiversity, we need to know what plants depend on what insects and viceversa. A lowly curly dock (Rumex crispus) is considered ugly and useless according to some (check a thread title in this forum). From the point of view of several species of butterflies and moths, however, that plant is VITAL.

What’s the point of being able to recognize exotic stuff growing in pots on someone’s deck but not knowing about ‘useless’ plants like these:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/112079735
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/115474259
Why complain about the loss of insects and the disappearance of butterflies and then kill every ‘weed’ that dares assert its right to life?

As for uninteresting, common plants, and what they look like over time, here is an example:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?taxon_id=56138&user_id=olrett
The first time I saw this plant, I had no idea what it was. There were no flowers yet, and I couldn’t identify it. That’s why I am now making a point of recording them in various stages, to make life easier for those like me who come across it for the first time.

Learning about plants led to learning about insects and spiders and worms and all the other lifeforms making soil alive. I try to always add notes of what plant that particular insect is feeding on. During winter, when I am less out, I can go over the observations and integrate them.

Lately I find myself fascinated with behaviour. My latest observation is that dragonflies can be fooled by plastic surfaces and that lack of rain is a problem:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/125227154
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/125833417

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A definite reason for recording ‘everything’ is that if we do not know what species we have and how they are faring then how can we protect them for future generations or know when they start to decline.

Personally, I record/observe everything I can. I go to new sites as often as possible and my motto is as follows: “If I know what the species is then I photograph it; if I do NOT know what the species is then I photograph it.” This gives a far better picture of the biodiversity of a site and by applying accurate position circles (2 metres) it also gives an indication of distribution over the site.

An ancillary positive using this method is that it finds new species, for me, reasonably regularly and gives more (and hopefully better) photos for training the CV.

I would suggest that you apply a similar technique and photograph everything you can for uploading to iNat. The DOWNSIDE to this technique is the amount of time it then takes to upload and adjust positioning markers etc. - depends how dedicated/interested you are.

Good luck with all your recording/observing !!

Steve

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I don’t think of it at all like that.

I like taking photo of nature. It doesn’t matter what the species is, I’m interested in whether it’s a nice photo or not. Also, if there is something I don’t recognize I’ll often take a photo of it so I can ID it later, even if it’s not a great photo.

There is never a “is this worth/interesting enough to make an observation of” type thought process though.

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