ID Process for Newbies?

I’m new to the app and am also learning to record observations and find out what I’m seeing.

As such, I both don’t know what look for as ID points of confirmation other than eyeballing, nor how the community observations and corrections work. Obviously, I’ll defer to experience, thank you. But how do such offers of correction come about? Are they like Wikipedia editors on the lookout for bad eyes like mine?

Do others’ observations of their own get appended to mine automatically?

How do my observations align with a local “project” that I follow? And how do I make sure not to mess them up?

And what do the notifications on my observations dashboard mean?

Sorry for the dumb questions. Thanks for the help. I looked for a guide on these but couldn’t find it.


Welcome to iNaturalist Chris. I’m new to the forum - this is my first post! I think you’ll find this page useful

You might also find the ‘identifications’ section of the help pages useful

There are lots of people on iNaturalist with different levels and areas of expertise who are adding identifications to observations. When you upload an organism it’s great if you are able to id yourself. If you can’t then following the computer generated recommendation is helpful or just label it to a higher taxon. Even just labelling something as ‘Plants’ is more useful than leaving it blank because it makes it more likely that potential identifiers will see the observation.

There are lots of people with expert knowledge here and users will usually search for observations that fit what they are knowledgeable about. They may search recent observations within a certain geographical area or taxon, they may be ‘following’ certain taxa or groups or they may identify through specific projects.

If someone adds an id and you want to know why you can always ask them - many people will be happy to oblige and explain how they came to that identification. Although, if someone has identified your observation to species level please don’t just agree with them unless you are confident you would make the same identification. We all make mistakes and this will prevent observations from reaching ‘Research Grade’ in error. If more than two thirds of IDs on the observation are in agreement at species level then it becomes research grade. The community id is the lowest taxon that the identifiers on an observation agree upon.

You will receive notifications on your dashboard when someone adds an identification to one of your observations or to an observation you are following (if you have added an id or comment to someone else’s observation). You will also get notifications when observations are uploaded for taxa or locations that you are following. You can change your settings to adjust what you get notified about.

Hope that’s helpful,



Welcome to ‘Facebook for Bio nerds’ :partying_face:

Seriously though a good place to get started is just on the home page there is a tab called ‘community’. I think under that there is a ‘getting started’ link and it kind of explains how the ID process works.

A lot of it you just pick up as you go along through ID’ing things or through the forum like you’re doing here. Feel free to search out existing threads for tips on identification tips from the respective experts. And ask questions through specific posts, forum threads, or private messages if someone is up for that. Most of us are here because we love to learn and in turn we’re not going to shoot down a question either.


If your observations are posted with the correct location and date, you really can’t mess up any iNaturalist projects. If your observations are identifiable and get identified* you will actually help relevant projects.

  • There is often a delay between posting an identifiable observation and getting it identified. There aren’t enough volunteer identifiers to get to all the projects especially for plants, moths, and intertidal organisms. I’m sorry about that.

But how do such offers of correction come about? Are they like Wikipedia editors on the lookout for bad eyes like mine?

Some people will watch out for and ID in biological groups or regions they’re familiar with. If they disagree, they may mention why–if they don’t or if you have more questions, there’s nothing wrong with adding a comment to ask, “hey, this looked like X but you said it’s Y, what do you know that I don’t yet?”

Occasionally people who are familiar with one another’s expertise might tag them to give advice on interesting or difficult observations.

A lot of us here, myself included, are amateurs still learning to make decent IDs ourselves. Don’t worry when you get corrections!


There isn’t any one best or right way to go about ID, but the general process is that people propose an ID, and then others can agree or disagree with it. The notifications on your dashboard are mostly about people commenting on your observations and/or making and/or refining or agreeing/disagreeing with ID’s on your observations. In practice, this is usually quite slow. I find for plants it is slower than for animals, but it is highly dependent on the taxon and also region. Some taxa and some regions are more heavily watched than others.

For example, I spend hours going through and ID’ing certain taxa, but only in broad regions that I’m familiar with, usually the northeastern US and Canada, sometimes more localized regions.

Some things might get ID’ed immediately, but others might take weeks or months. I find a lot of users catch up on growing-season plant observations over the winter, so if you post something now, it might not get ID’ed until January or February of next year.

I also encourage people to exercise restraint with ID. You don’t need to ID everything to species level. If you feel reasonably certain about a genus, family, or even a broader grouping, but don’t really know beyond that, then guess the broad grouping. This can be helpful for allowing people to hone it down. People who watch the broader grouping can then get more specific. For example, I often go through pages of un-ID’ed oaks or maples in my area. If you are certain something as an oak, someone like me might come along and get more specific about it.

You can also use iNaturalist though as a tool to research ID. You can look through pages of research-grade observations (be careful, though, some of them might be mis-ID’ed) and you can also look on the page for a particular taxon, then hit “Similar Species”, to see what other taxa are commonly confused with it. It will show a heading " Other species commonly misidentified as this species in (place)." and you can change the place in the top-right corner of the page.

If you feel reasonably confident of your ability to distinguish between commonly confused species, it will be relatively safer to make ID’s on that taxon. This can be a good way to discover things you might not have thought to check against, like how people often aren’t aware to check against red-seeded dandelions when reporting common dandelions, or newbie birders might not realize there are two crow species (Fish crow and American crow) in much of the eastern U.S.

I also recommend using external tools, and you’ll need different tools for different types of organisms. For example, for birds, I use eBird to check range maps and timing of arrival/departure/migration and frequency in their bar charts, which you can fine-tune to the level of individual counties or even specific sites if they have enough data. For insects, is an amazing site (and useful in a very different sort of way). For plants, I love BONAP for checking range maps.

It’s okay to make mistakes. But please do your best and share your reasoning if you’re uncertain about something. I have learned a TON from other users, including from users who aren’t sure about their ID’s…someone being like: “Well, I normally would think it is such-and-such, except for (such-and-such characteristic) which makes me uncertain, it could also be (this other species).” – This is how I start getting pushed more towards the expert level, when I start realizing how little I actually know, because other people are sharing their reasoning behind their skepticism.


Thank you all for your information and guidance. This is super exciting. I hope y’all get notified that I am posting to the topic and not thanking you individually.

So FYI here’s why I’m here: My dog Jack (profile picture) and I are daily trail runners somewhere up from the Mad River Valley (Vermont) to and along the Monroe Skyline/Long Trail and we decided it would be dumb not to know everything around us as we went. So I came across iNaturalist as a “recording” tool…not understanding (until your help, thank you) that it is a community-based learning (actually a help-me-learn) system.

That’s very cool!! Everyone is so helpful!

So now I think I have a handle on how to proceed and thank you for your input and guidance. I’ll try to grow from here.

A few questions/clarifications:

  1. As I climb the learning curve (or rather decent the taxonomy ;) I will often snap pictures on different days of the same thing until I learn to ID what I am looking at. I can’t “merge” those observations, correct? They stay as separate “entries”? Should I “clean up” my observations if it gets too messy by deleting some?

  2. I try to make a good id, using the computer comparison and then reading about the range and particulars of the suggestion and take that if it looks right. If someone else agrees, making it two agree, then it is automatically labeled “Research Grade”?

2a) If I post an observation but don’t try to ID it, then one helpful contributor makes a suggestion, I can agree to that and it becomes “ID’d” and also research-grade because two agree?

2b) If I post an observation and don’t try to ID it, then two helpful contributors make a suggestion, it then gets the 2-agreed and automatically becomes 'ID’d" and research-grade?

Thank you all for your help here and going forward!



Here’s another forum topic relating to your first question (I hope it helps):

The other questions should be covered in this other forum topic, including the links therein:


Click on “About” in the Community Taxon section of any observation for an in-depth description of the community taxon algorithm. It’s a bit dense but hopefully will help you out. And welcome to iNat! :-)


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