How important is time of day on observations?

As the title says, I’m curious what weight data users would give to time of day on observations? I found some older threads and a feature request that suggest time is important info for some folks (e.g. time of day searching, adding a time graph to species pages). What taxa is this most useful for?

I avoid having the time showing on my observations because the clock on my camera is notoriously wrong. I just looked at it and corrected it again but yes, I can confirm it was way off again. I also found threads noting similar issues with camera clocks being off (daylight savings time), which makes me wonder how many time stamps on iNat observations may be wrong. Should I do a better job reminding myself more frequently to check my camera clock?

There are some privacy concerns (and a request to hide time). Another reason to hide time would be making obscured observations harder to track based on the observations before and after (very sensitive stuff I tend to upload separately from the bulk from a hike so it doesn’t show up in order on my observation list either). I understand iNat has already somewhat addressed that part, but not completely. What is the best way to handle these concerns so people interested in time of day for research purposes could still filter for and extract data with accurate times?

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For me it is important, when carrying out bird censuses, for example, it is important to have the reference of birds from the same area with the same weather to be able to predict their behavior…


In the plant genus Xyris, the “yellow-eyed grasses,” different species bloom at different times of day – early morning, late morning, or afternoon (the flowers close up soon after opening). I’ve seen a field of Xyris with hundreds of blooms in the morning turn to hundreds of blooms of a DIFFERENT species that same afternoon. So in this case, observation time-of-day can be a key to species.

Luckily, cell phones keep good track of time of day!


Obscuration hides time entirely.
I have time on everything that can have it I think it’s extremely important and if time is wrong, better to not have it at all.


Very cool! I never knew that about Xyris.

You could take a quick photo with your phone in addition to the ones taken with your camera. Not for every observation, just one for the outing. Then when you are uploading your observations you can reference the time on your cellphone photo and then use the time adjustment slider to account for the difference when you upload your observations.

This succulent vygie is named ‘pomeridiana’ = post meridian = afternoon.
We saw closed buds when we started and finally open as we looped back.

While they may not be named so, many of our plants don’t open unless the (weather and) time are right. Some are fragrant, but the small print says - in the evening.

I think it’s important, though not obviously so. For example, white nose disease leads to nocturnal bats being active during the day. Observers may not even realize such behavior is unusual, but it could indicate the presence and spread of a disease to researchers. Maybe even a new disease.


I’m a bit curious about how many observations/hour some of the regular observers make in my area, so knowing the time is helpful for that. Filtering by day and observer, and checking first/last observation time lets me figure out that statistic.

I know much of this comes down to mobility, opportunity, etc. but I’d definitely ask an observer more about what they’re doing if they had a very high observation rate and highly diagnostic photos to learn more about methods/equipment involved.

Many plants flower at specific times of day. I rarely see Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) flowers, except for early in the morning. The most interesting example I’m aware of is Cereus cacti flowers, which only open up fully at night and get pollinated by large Sphinx Moths (Sphingidae).

Lastly, there are the clock families, which I’m not too familiar with: Morning Glories (Convolvulaceae), Four o’Clocks (Nyctaginaceae), and Evening Primrose (Onagraceae), where knowing time of day makes the difference in whether the flower is showing or not.

Edit: @annkatrinrose, I didn’t realize you were the OP before posting reply, you probably already knew this and a lot more already! Still leaving it, in case it’s useful to other readers.


Time of day is a crucial data point for studies of circadian rhythms.


I’m sure everyone would love for all of the data to be precise and accurate. But everyone using iNat data should know that it was generated by the general public and very often it isn’t. There’s no way to know which times and locations are correct or in error–how does one know if 90% of the times/locations are correct or if only 10% of them are correct? So I hope no one is using iNat data for crucial management decisions or research data. All public-generated datasets have the same limitations. Researchers should use citizen science observations for hypothesis generation not for hypothesis testing. It’s like Wikipedia–a great place to start.


I generally agree, but there’s probably a way to weed out observations based on the device used to make them using photo metadata. You’re going to have a high error rate with, say, DSLRs, but a pretty low one with say, iPhones and other devices that update system time settings frequently and automatically.


Thanks all for the insightful responses!

Only on the website though. The Help page state: “If an obscured observation was made at a similar time to an open observation made by the same user, the true location of the obscured observation can be guessed. iNaturalist avoids displaying the exact date of obscured observations publicly but this information is still available in the API responses and nearby observations can be inferred by searches, the observation_id, or even just making guesses about a user’s behavior including the places they frequent.”

If I had a phone with me, yes. I only just recently got one for travel and I’m finding on most trails around the mountains here I have no reception but taking a picture should still work I guess.

Hm, I’m wondering - is there a way to filter for observations made with the phone apps vs. uploaded via website? I know it notes on the observation page if it was created using Seek or the other apps, so that info is captured and displayed.

That part talks about order of uploading, as obscuration doesn’t change place of observation in upload row, so time and place can be guessed.

I think it’s possible, but I doubt it exists yet. It doesn’t exist to my knowledge, but I’m still a noob lol

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