How to get identifications for your observations

A common question for people new to iNaturalist is how to get additional identifications (IDs) on your observations. There isn’t one quick answer, and in fact there have been several forum topics discussing this already*. Here are the most common suggestions, gathered into one list.

  1. Provide all the necessary information to make your observation “Needs ID” – date, location on map, photos/sounds. Observations missing this information are “Casual” and much less likely to get identified.

  2. Try to get the photos/sounds needed to identify your taxon. For example, if the tail needs to be visible to identify it to species, you shouldn’t expect species IDs if your photo doesn’t show the tail. If you’re not sure what’s needed, try to get multiple angles/views and something for scale. Simple photo editing can also help, e.g. cropping, lightening, etc. See more tips/discussion, including taxon-specific photo recommendations, here and here.

  3. Add your own ID at the narrowest level you feel comfortable with, for example “plants” or “beetles”. Observations with an ID are much more likely to be identified.

  4. Wait. This sounds like a joke, but IDs sometimes just take time. Maybe it’s the busy field season for most of the experts in this taxon, or maybe there’s someone who only IDs once a month. Use the filters on the Explore page to find observations similar to yours and see how long they generally take to get IDs.

  5. If you observed something like an animal track, scat, or feather, add an annotation indicating so. Some identifiers will search specifically for these types of evidence of presence.

  6. Engage with the iNat community by joining projects, adding IDs for others, etc. When you interact with other users, it can increase the visibility of your observations and make other users more willing to help you with IDs.

  7. @-mention a couple top identifiers in your taxon (found in the lower right of each observation page). Be aware that they may not know your geographic area, and may not want a lot of notifications from mentions, so search specifically for identifiers of that taxon in your area and proceed with some caution. Related discussion here, including tips on how to find identifiers in your area.

  8. See if you can find sources outside iNat to help you learn to ID your own observations. You can then bring that knowledge back to the community and hopefully recruit additional identifiers/identifications. Some field guide suggestions can be found here and here.

Caveats/notes:

  • Some taxa are never identifiable from photos/sounds alone.

  • Not all geographic and taxonomic areas get the same amount of attention from identifiers. For example, most North American birds are identified very quickly, but your South American beetle observation may take a long time before someone adds an ID.

  • A lack of IDs isn’t necessarily a lack of interest – it may be that no one knows what it is right now, but it could prove to be valuable to a future researcher or land manager.

  • “Research Grade” actually just means “exported to GBIF” (if appropriately licensed). Any researcher can opt to use or not use any observation. Related discussion here.

  • Be aware that identifiers are usually volunteers who are donating their time and expertise.

  • For a more complete discussion of what to do from an identifier’s perspective, see this tutorial.

*e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4
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6. Join a project Excellent advice

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Love this. It’s important for new users to understand that identification is a process, and doesn’t happen automatically.

  1. I love being tagged for help and make sure to let people know it’s OK when I have the opportunity. When in doubt, you might tag a top identifier or two, then ask “Can you help me with this ID? Would it be okay if I tag you again in the future?” I usually take note of people who have helped me in the past, esp. those that leave clarifying comments on their IDs.
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I’d add potentionally, only if your licence allows it.

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it’s nice if you’re patient with this. writing “hi @ blue, could you please help?” on something you uploaded a month ago will make me want to do my best to help you out. writing "@ blue @ nathan @ vic " three minutes after you upload makes me instantly mark your observation(s) as reviewed so I don’t have to deal with you x

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I tend to favour being a little bold on my personal IDs… i.e. at least give it a genus if I think that it looks like a particular set of species. The benefit is that someone who is an expert working through Needs ID images is more likely to see it. And if it turns out that I’m wrong, (1) the genus level isn’t going to be a problem usually and (2) someone is more likely to tell me that I’m wrong, either telling me it’s another genus or just bumping it up to a higher level.

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This is all very good advice. The only thing I would add is that as a non-professional, my identifications could very well be wrong. Given taxonomic revisions and being unfamiliar with a taxon, I have made many wrong ID’s. So the advice would be to do your own investigations, sometimes using Google Scholar to access original research papers.

  1. Wait

That is the bit where it can get really interesting
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/94928931

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Expect also that some observations may never get identified. 1/3 of my observations are unidentified as of yet. Does that bother me? Not at all. I have quite a number of obscure taxa and observations that don’t have good enough pictures (and not for the lack of trying).

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This is an excellent and concise summary! Thank you for putting all of this in one place, good advice, and in a nutshell. I’d like to ask you if you let me translate your post into Spanish for all the users who potentially don’t understand English very well, but they will find these tips to be very helpful. I’ll certainly tag you in the post and leave a link to the original, and will be posted on the Spanish category of the Tutorials Forum. If it’s out of place my request, please let me know, no problem :)

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That’s fine with me, but I also don’t want all the credit – most of the tips came from previous forum discussions, plus @bouteloua and @jdmore had some input as well.

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I was thinking in doing just that when I found about this new tutorial, but I was in class. Let me know if you need help

@jwidness Great work in summarizing the tips, I think this will prove useful for occasions where new users upload a good number of unknowns observations

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Taking time to ensure photos are near and clear enough helps. Some use the app and take distant photos or the first they can, which may turn out blurry. Unless taking good photos via the app, you could take photos with your phone’s camera, crop the best, then upload.

Many identifiers filter by needs ID, excluding RG obs. So, it can help to not immediately Agree with the first user who makes a species ID if you don’t know it. It will then remain in Needs ID until another ID is added.

Making IDs for or following other observers can lead them to ID more of yours.

Waiting for IDs also means current RG obs. which were due to only 2 IDs can be expected to receive future IDs which confirm, refine (e.g. indicate subspecies), or change ID and RG status. Due to that, it’s helpful for identifiers to also ID non-reviewed RG obs. and to assess them without assuming they’re correct.

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