How should I record observations of a group of the same species?

I found 8 Marbled White butterflies in about 10 square metres of meadow. I was not able to photograph all 8 butterflies individually or as a group. I did manage some photographs of a male and one of a male and a female roosting on opposite sides of a stem of Ribwort Plantain.

Is the group of 8 one observation or 8 observations? If the latter then only a few separate individuals were photographed. How do I provide evidence for all 8.

Are the 2 roosting one or two observations?

How do I record the association with the the Ribwort Plantain stem?

How many photographs should I include in an observatiion? I take anything from 1 to 20 or 30 until I am satisfied or have frightened off the butterfly?


Great questions! You’re probably going to hear a variety of opinions. I think the official iNaturalist guidance is that the “subject” is one individual, and that individual should be present in all observations. For instance, if the same male was present in all the photos you took, you could include all the photos in a single observation. If you’re confident it was a different male in each photo, then you technically should post two separate observations. You could also post a third observation for the female, re-using the same photo, but that would not be necessary.

In my experience, most users would post all of the photos you took in one observation. You can observation fields such as “number of individuals” to document that there were 8, and you can use “associated species with names lookup” for the Ribwort Plantain interaction.

I prefer to follow iNat’s official guidance when its feasible, but don’t let that be a barrier to posting observations. It’s ok to post observations and learn about the intricacies of iNat as you go.


I’d recommend either:

  1. Posting each individual separately
  2. Posting 2 observations (one for all of the males, one of all of the females)

Or what I would probably do:

  1. Only post a select few (perhaps 1 female individual, 2 separate males, etc.)

I don’t recommend putting all of the photos into one observation, especially if there are distinctly different sexes present.

Edit: You can represent that you saw 8 by posting casual observations for the ones you weren’t able to photograph


See iNat’s definition of an observation. Plese don’t put photos of all the butterflies into one observation.

I’d suggest not making observation for each butterfly. Pick one or two individuals (maybe a male and a female) and note in the description that there were X numbers flying about. iNaturalist is simply not designed for recording abundance and I don’t think one should really use it as such, unless you do something like add an observation field like “Count” to the observation.

You can also use an observation field to add information about what the insect is perching on.


There’s no right answer. As long as you aren’t posting the same individual repeatedly (and even there, just do your best) all’s fair.

Don’t sweat it.


Take as many as you see fit. For most taxa that means many different photos with many different angles of key details, but for others a single photo works. Taxa like plants need multiple photos for the leaves, stems, flowers, etc., while for taxa like birds all you need is a single clear photo

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Take the number of photos required to positively identify the species. Especially of a species where others are very similar and clarity is needed.

I agree with @tiwane. While iNaturalist is great at creating distribution maps and recording location and time, it does little for counts. A flock of birds could be ten individuals. Uploading the same photo ten times to cover each individual will do wonders for your number of observations, it will do nothing for science. So, besides wasting your time and data, if you have a photo with more than one individual of the same species, in my opinion, upload it once only.

My take on this topic is on this site, this date and time, is species Aa and so recorded. I may move to another close by location (different aspect etc) and take a new set of photos which form a new observation.

Researchers will then use your location data to visit the area and do a more accurate species count.

Consider this question " Should I try to be frugal with iNaturalist’s bandwidth?"

I might post the male(s) and female(s) separately, or post a photo that has both twice, to annotate for male and female. Other than that, combining several photos of the same species from one time & place as a single observation is good.

If you feel there’s some reason to post different individuals of the same species at one time and place, do it. However, as an identifier I say, please do not post the same photo X times just because there are X individuals of the same species in it! That’s just a waste of our time. It’s enough to make a comment like “8 individuals present” if they’re not all in the same photo and if you want to preserve that information.

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I think this is one of the biggest disadvantages of iNaturalist. In my opinion, adding a “count” field already during the upload process would increase the value of the data tremendously.

Regarding the original question:
I would post a male and a female. I am really not a fan of posting each individual seperately. Sometimes I see 20 photos of the same bird species from the same location and time. This does not have an additional value for me and just takes time from the identifiers. There are also cases where the same individual is uploaded several times when the individuals are hard to distinguish in the field,

Users can already use observation fields for this if they wish. However, I don’t think adding a field on upload would be a good option. It would slow down uploads. Also, many observations are made after the fact, and users may not know how many individuals they saw. leading some to estimate poorly. As someone who uses iNat data, I would be very sceptical of any abundance data from iNat which would be collected unsystematically and would not base any serious analysis on it. I think the scientific value of this data would be low to none.


Would it be possible to add certain categories only to one species?

Such as for African elephants - breeding herd

Or bachelor herd for Impala and others who form male groups.

Or coalition for cats like cheetah

This would be useful data for some species: Elephant bulls often use different sites than the breeding herds and only when in musth the males will leave the bulls’ places and travel to the herds. There are places where the presence of a breeding herd is very rare, but bulls are there every day.

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This could be done with observation fields - there may be some existing ones that could be used.

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