How to understand identifications of other users, subjective and unsaid meanings of different IDs, and the best practices when identifying

Before writing, I have a feeling that this will be a long post with lots of questions, many of which may have been answered in other posts previously. For this, I apologise. But I do feel like some of these at least are “edge cases”, where I haven’t found much about.

Unclear areas and the meaning of different “kinds” of IDs

When other people leave an ID on one’s observation, there can be a lot of subjective interpretation and uncertainty of what that ID means, especially if none of the identifiers leave a comment. As there isn’t a standardised way of identifying and everyone has their own practices they think are best, I realise that there is not the definitve answer to most of my questions, but I thought getting others’ perspectives may help.

Example 1: Multiple people agreeing on a broad ID (complex, genus, tribe, subfamily, etc.), but the community taxon isn’t set to “as good as it can be”
If multiple people (>2), including taxon experts, ID something to, say, genus, I usually interpret that as “This observation cannot be identified further”. This however would be contrary to no one voting “community taxon is as good as it can be”.
Questions: As the observer, should I mark the IDs as “as good as it can be” in this case, even if I’m not a taxon-expert?
As an identifier, should I add an “agree” to the genus observation if I don’t know whether it is the most precise ID possible, or should I leave the observation?

Example 2: Non-disagreeing IDs of lower precision. As an observer, I often have no idea how to interpret this. In most cases, apart from when overriding an obviously false ID to get it onto the right branch, this seems superfluous.
Questions: As the observer, how do I interpret such an ID when the community taxon also matches the more precise IDs?
As an identifier, when should I add non-disagreeing lower-precision IDs, and when should I leave the observation alone?

Additional questions of when and how to ID

Sometimes, when going through observations to identify, there is the odd observation that we may not necessarily know what to do with, for various reasons…

  1. How many “agrees” on a seemingly correct ID does it really need?
    Is it better to leave an ID at “barely research grade” so that future disagrees, if they ever happen, hold more weight? Or should I always add my agree, if I’m quite certain the ID is correct, even if there are 3, 4, 19, or however many already?

  2. When getting an ID from “unknown” to the highest precision possible, do I ever agree with “stepstone” IDs, or do I leave the observation to someone who can either improve on the ID or mark it as “as good as it can be”?

  3. When reviewing non-wild observations without any IDs or obviously wrong ones, do I mark them as non-wild, or should I let someone do it who is also able to provide one?

  4. If someone knows what they photographed and written that as a comment or text below the obs, but hasn’t provided an “official ID” for some reason, do I add an ID for their suggestion (and perhaps withdraw it later), to the highest precision I feel confident, or do I leave the entire observation be?

For example 1 q1, I would not base your identification or annotations based simply on other people’s IDs. Although I tend to agree that if multiple taxon experts had a look at it and didn’t put it to species it’s probably not going further, I don’t think this implication is a good enough reason to add the DQA - I think it would be better to comment asking the experts if it should be marked as such.

Example 1 q2 and example 2 q2 - feel free to add an ID at the level of your knowledge, no matter what others have said, even if the community ID is already more specific. This has been discussed before and I think the general consensus is that it doesn’t hurt anything although is not necessarily the best place to focus your ID efforts.

As for how to interpret non-disagreeing broad IDs, I don’t think you have to read anything into it. I usually do not bother but I think it’s generally just ‘can’t confirm the species but yup it’s this genus’.

As for your following questions:

  1. If you are quite certain then there’s no harm. If you are 95% certain then I would leave it alone, personally, just in case.
  2. You can agree with the lowest level you can personally confirm, but you don’t really need to since the community taxon will be the most specific ID anyway, unless disagreements happen in which case if you can you should pick the one you agree with.
  3. You can mark them as non-wild without putting an ID if there’s none but I would put a broad disagree if the existing ID is obviously wrong but you can’t specifically ID. Casual obs will almost never get followed up on so I try to put something before relegating it but it’s not a requirement.
  4. If you can confirm it, then yeah go for it. I wouldn’t add one purely because of OP’s comments, it should still be your vote.

As a person who regularly uses #2, I personally use it in taxa where I am one of the primary identifiers and the evidence provided is “squishy” but that the ID is likely correct. Basically, I’m confirming that it is indeed something in that family/genus/whatever but not confirming to perhaps the specific species chosen. Often I try to leave a comment explaining as well but sometimes I just don’t. This provides some context rather than letting the observation sit forever with nobody identifying it or someone comes along and just agrees randomly as some users are prone to do

On the other hand, if I believe that the chosen species is likely wrong (or that the evidence is definitely insufficient) I will disagree with an ID to genus/family/whatever instead.


I’ll add a little to Example 2. First, if you don’t understand an ID, you should ask the identifier. There’s no need to agonize over it.

I often add a “non-disagreeing ID of lower precision” when I’m IDing trilliums, especially when I’m the first identifier to weigh in. If the observer’s ID is over-specified at species level (which happens regularly), but I’m unable to confidently add a disagreeing ID at species level (which also happens regularly), I’ll add an ID at subgenus level to indicate the inherent difficulty in taking the observation to species. I usually leave a short comment as well, but not always, since the number of trillium observations that need ID is consistently overwhelming. If the observer is confused, they sometimes ask for clarification. Sometimes the observer will silently downgrade their over-specified leading ID, which is the best-case scenario.

If I’m late to the party, and another identifier has already committed an ID, I usually do nothing unless I can confidently add a disagreeing ID.


I won’t use - good as can be - since we don’t get notified, unless someone kind leaves a comment with an @mention (hello you are blocking this ID - but politely obvs) I cannot refine the ID, but usually a taxon specialist can.

I do use the placeholder as an ID. I will return and withdraw mine if I want the second ID to be from a taxon specialist. Not using my placeholder support to take it to RG!
PS because I ID for Africa, where there is a huge backlog. Placeholder ID gets the obs to taxon specialists - then I can follow up, withdraw or @mention as needed.

If I can see the CID is wrong, I will push back - but unfortunately iNat does not permit us to say - it is not an orchid - iNat insists that we say What is IS. Broad planty IDs like Dicot tips plant obs to limbo. Which is disappointing. And wrong + broad then needs FIVE identifiers to agree - and we often do not have five competent identifiers for that taxon active on iNat.

You can add a third ID to protect against a profile deleted in future? Some taxon specialists use their ID as a ‘been there done that’ on obs.

For Not Wild, I will try to add an ID. Especially to encourage newbies. But someone with lots of obs and ‘should know better’ I might tip to Casual and move on.

1 Like

19 is excessive, but certainly 3-4 confirming IDs can be helpful because it adds a safety net in the event of an identifier deleting their iNat account. Not everyone turns off notifications for agreeing IDs, which is why I typically don’t add more if an observation has received more than 4 IDs.

Yes, please mark them as non-wild. There are a few identifiers that specifically filter by “captive/cultivated” observations and provide IDs. If I know what it is, I will also add an ID, but always with a note prompting them to mark such observations as “captive/cultivated” in the future, because it really is the responsibility of the observer and it gets really annoying for identifiers.

Agreed. Add an ID to the highest precision you feel confident. If the observer has added their unofficial ID as a Placeholder instead of as a comment, then I do the following: ID to the best of my ability, and, if I cannot confirm to a level at or below their placeholder, then I add a comment “OP’s Placeholder ID: What they wrote”. Because placeholders disappear once an ID is added.


In my opinion, you should never mark the IDs as “as good as it can be” unless you know that this is a taxon that can not identified further from photographic evidence (e. g. it is a species complex and requires genital dissection to get to a species).
Most of the time identifiers just stick to higher level IDs because they are not expert enough to get to a finer ID or the obs does not show the required details they need to ID; but one can not know if another idtentifier is able to ID.

I would suggest to never agree on any ID unless you know how to ID the taxon no matter how many previous IDs there are and by whom.

How to interpret non-disagreeing broad IDs: The identifier does not know if the finer ID is correct but is certain of genus, family etc. Can be due to lack of knowledge or due to poor photographic evidence lacking the details required for ID.


I specialize in African butterflies and there are several instances where I’ve been able to identify a species but which hasn’t yet been described in a publication. In those situations I may add a disagreeing ID at genus level, but leave the observation as unreviewed so that I can come back to it again when the new species is finally officially described. I usually do not leave a comment in these cases to avoid the rare instance of someone swooping in and quickly publishing a description before my colleague (or even myself) is able to finish the paper.


I really support the idea of avoiding “as good as it can be.” To me it suggests that no one could ever no more than I do at this moment. Even if a complex can’t be identified from photos, the platform is relatively new and many groups are poorly known. In the future when more is known and more observations are available it may be possible to identify to species based on range or habitat or seasonality. Currently-unknown features could also be discovered that make the group easier to identify.
On the other topic, the word ‘agree’ is problematic. When you add your identification, you aren’t just agreeing with a previous identifier, you are independently verifying the identification. I think the word ‘agree’ prevents the community identifications from functioning as intended except in groups that are relatively well known.


No, that’s definitely not the case. Many, many organisms are just ID’d to genus that can be tricky, but not impossible, to get to species. And sometimes they aren’t hard at all, an identifier might just lack the information to get to species. The “as good as can be” should be reserved for those species who cannot be identified to species without additional testing that would most likely require collection (microscopy, chemical tests, etc.)

I don’t think the average user (identifier and/or observer) would need to use the “as good as can be” option. It’s mostly used in special situations.


For example 1: It wouldn’t hurt to mark it as good as can be to move it out of the ID pool. Regrettably, some of us aren’t good about remembering to check that as often as we should. If you do check it, the observation might still be examined later as many of us routinely check Research Grade as well anyway.
Example 2: I usually do disagreeing ID’s in those cases. Where I do non-disagreeing would be for cryptic species that I’m pretty are correct, but the true diagnostic marks aren’t visible. In that I don’t necessarily want to lose the observation in Subgenus, but I also don’t want to send it to GBIF yet.
Additional Questions:
1= Depends who these people are. Are any of these 19 identifiers taxon specialists? If not then a 20th that is a specialist, is an important stamp of approval.
4=I’ve done that before, especially in cases where they included an out-of-date taxon name, but be careful, some of these are wrong anyway.


As someone who always has opinions, I’ve responded to each question. My most basic answer would be, don’t overthink this. Do what you think best, which can often be nothing at all.

Example 1: Don’t mark your observation “as good as it can be” unless you yourself know that there is a good reason the observation can’t be ID’d further. I wouldn’t add an agreeing ID at the higher level, either, but I might. Let the process play out.

Example 2: If you’ve ID’d something as a species and somebody else provides a non-disagreeing genus ID, just leave the ID alone. The other person didn’t disagree.
This ID usually means “Yes, it’s this genus, and I don’t know enough, or can’t see enough in the photo, to give a species ID. It may be right.” I often use non-disagreeing species ID’s when somebody has provided a subspecies ID and I don’t know and don’t doubt (and frankly don’t care) if the subspecies is correct but I’d like to get the observation to RG at the species level (which I know is correct). Also, a person checking all observations of a given taxon will often use a non-disagreeing higher level ID as a kind of “Been here, don’t need to review it again” message, basically for himself.
Except in that subspecies example, I rarely use non-disagreeing ID’s because they make more ID’s necessary before an observation can reach RG (unless I come back and remove my higher level ID). I would recommend that you don’t either, but it’s never actually wrong.

Q1: More ID’s protect an observation against returning to Needs ID if an identifier deletes the account or if a malicious person comes along (rare, but it happens). If you’re confident that the ID is correct, add an ID. Do watch your notifications in case somebody comes along with a different ID and a good explanation of why it’s right.

Q2. I don’t bother to agree with “stepstone” ID’s. I might if I know there’s a problem with identifying this taxon and I want to provide encouragement.

Q3. With non-wild observations not marked as such, I follow this personal rule: If the observation was recently posted and it doesn’t have a species name yet, I leave it at “wild” because otherwise it may never get an ID. With old observations, e.g. submitted a year ago, even three months ago, I always mark them “captive/cultivated” whether they have an ID or not. Obviously, some people disagree and think all non-wild observations should be marked “captive/cultivated,” ID’d or not. They’re not wrong but I disagree.

Q4. Judgement call. Sometimes new observers do this when they don’t understand how to ID an observation on iNaturalist, or if they misspelled the name. I generally put the observer’s ID in and write a note saying, “ID by xxxxx, not me.” If I don’t put the ID in, it may languish unidentified at a higher level. If the observations shows up in my notifications because someone has agreed, I may remember to withdraw “my” ID. Or not.


I often use broad IDs to help break broad taxa into finer taxa that I can go through later when I’ve got the relevant resources in front of me, or just for when I feel like going through IDs more slowly than quickly. No one will really know if I consider an ID my “final” ID, as whether or not I’ve removed the “reviewed” mark is not visible to others.

Example: I look through all Bivalvia observations with IDs at superorder or higher, placing the IDs as best I can. Then I can look through the orders, families, genera in a group of them, when the distinguishing marks and possible alternatives are all at the top of my mind.

If a really broad ID, like Bivalvia or Autobranchia is my final ID, I may comment that “I doubt that finer ID will be possible”, though I’ll rarely mark the “Community ID cannot be improved” DQA.

I used to add more broader but not disagreeing IDs, but I found they got misinterpreted as disagreement too often. When I do it now, I try to explain what I mean by it.


I’ve observed disagreeing IDs being overused at times, even when the person identifying can’t verify the ID but has no evidence it is wrong or unverifiable by others either. I recognize there are some cases where there isn’t enough evidence to get an ID, like a picture of grasses with no reproductive structures identified to a technically difficult species… but i personally feel one should reserve disagreeing IDs for if they feel the ID is likely to be wrong, not if they can’t tell. “Evidence does not support the ID” can sometimes be said with confidence, but i see it stated way too often. For instance, my preferred sedge key needs the leaf base visible, so i can’t identify this sedge, but another key doesn’t use that trait. I should not hard-disagree to genus level there. But if that is the case AND the overall look is wrong AND the habitat is wrong AND it is out of range… something like that… I might hard-disagree.

1 Like

Personally, I do not mark other people’s observations as non-wild (Captive/Cultivated) without asking them first to clarify if the organism was wild. I’ve seen too many cases of overzealous DQA-clickers incorrectly marking things as cultivated because they look cultivated in the picture. For example, an ornamental tree sapling popping out of some mulch could have been planted there, or it could be a volunteer growing from seeds that fell from a nearby cultivated individual. A picked flower in a vase could have been bought or picked from a garden, but it also could have been picked from an uncultivated plant that popped up in the person’s yard. A bug in a jar or a cat on a porch could be someone’s pet, or they could be wild/feral and someone happened to capture them to get a photo. I know some people see those sorts of observations and immediately click “Captive/Cultivated” and leave some copypasta message saying essentially “Welcome to iNaturalist… this site is for wild organisms, not pets and garden plants.” This puts them into the Casual category though, where identifiers are not likely to look at them. I’d rather err strongly on the side of leaving “probably-cultivated” observations as wild (unless it’s something completely unambiguous, like a photo of a zebra in a zoo enclosure). A few garden plants lingering in Needs ID as “wild” is better than a few wild plants getting incorrectly relegated to Casual, in my opinion. It’s a trade-off though, and clearly plenty of users disagree with my approach, given how many “Captive/Cultivated” votes I’ve had to counter on my own wild observations.


They don’t, actually. Otherwise all of us who add broad IDs to get the observation to be seen by experts would be hindering the ID process.



As others have said, if in doubt ask the identifiers what they mean. You might not get an answer, especially from high volume identifiers where even tagging them tends to get lost in their notifications, but many will respond. Most specialized IDers don’t use the “good as can be” option because it’s time consuming, hard to know if it’s true and might just result in a lot of observations being marked as casual at the family level. A lot of taxa fall into the category of “there’s probably a few experts out there that could ID this genus to species from photos but none of them are active on Inaturalist”, so they’ll probably just sit in the review queue for a long time (or forever).

I use it a lot for birds, because the ID characters are well known and well researched. If an observation is so fuzzy or distant as to not show any of them, or a particular part of the bird needs to be visible, then no amount of expert attention will be able to ID it. And there’s lots of bird identifiers, so checking the good as can be box helps them down the line. For taxa with few or only one active IDers, checking the box might not really help them.

But a lot of time I’ll add a broader level ID and not check the box because I just don’t feel that it’s warranted, or don’t feel motivated enough to figure it out. It might never get an ID because (for example) there’s only a few people on iNat that care about IDing immature gulls to species and way too many observations for them to look at them all, but it’s probably possible…


I second not liking the cases when people base ‘cannot be improved’ votes on their particular key. Many keys that are made solely based on pressed specimens are trash for field ID/photo ID. They’ll make it sound like the only way to distinguish the species is a microscopic feature of a particular layer of the root system, and not even mention that the two species have a completely different habit and do not really look all that similar when their parts are visualized in 3D fully hydrated instead of crushed into 2D and dried.


A post was split to a new topic: What is a placeholder ID?