Identifiers as Volunteer Curators, and Obs with Probs

I have 3 situations I struggle with. They each need to be, can only be, resolved by the observer. And iNat needs a better solution.

Exactly the same picture uploaded 3 or 4 times (probably poor internet or power supply issues) - that irritates taxon specialists (not me). The frank duplicates need a better solution than IDing them all carefully.

The flower and the leaf uploaded as separate obs. Together it is obvious what the ID is. They need to be combined as one obs.

Then the random collection of various species - where someone helpfully IDs the first image. I see no value in choosing the lowest common denominator - so the plant people can see it. No, thank you. Buffalo, badger and oh look a very rare butterfly - you still can’t ID any of them, and that butterfly picture is trapped in limbo. (Similar to spiphany’s example)

Pushing it to Life and ‘Casual’ (such an offensive word choice by iNat) was an idea someone else taught me, to take it out of the Needs ID pool for subsequent identifiers.

And if mine comes across as an ‘attack on Africa’? Another way of looking at - that I focus in IDing for Africa. Swop your name for mine to see your footprint in Africa.

That is sad. Years of good intentions that imploded. And yet, with help from taxon specialists I add a steady stream of missing species, and first obs on iNat, and eventually the 60 obs we need for the next CV update. Making iNat better and more effective for newer users.


Did you not separate out the species later?

To be honest, I cannot quite suss out which birds are different. My eyes thought and still think all the photos show the one parrot but I cannot be sure, so I have now, three years later, tagged someone I know with the knowledge to tell me and asked him to tell me, in very simple terms like I am an idiot, which bird(s) are in which photos. (The parrots fly and alight in the trees in groups of 5-6.)


This shows that we are still lacking a “good” solution to the old (Feb 2019) feature request:


If any @moderators could directly move the later posts (above) on this thread over to the new discussion thread on “obs with probs”, then that would help refocus this topic on the past month’s work in Africa specifically. Thanks for help!

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Moderation note: I just moved 39 posts (starting with the first one above from @sgene) to this thread from around this point in the Mission: Impossible - Identify Plantae in Africa thread.


(typed message into wrong thread, redoing sorry)

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Which brings up the question - who is going through museum collections to check IDs? I have read about scientists who searched museum collections and found mistakes, but I have not heard of people or groups of people going through collections or sections of collections to verify IDs.

I know what this is about, and I fully support you.

This is just to comment and voice my support as long as this post is still visible.

The issue you refer to should be addressed. Curators have no tools(*) to deal with this, so it will have to be a public discussion related to site policy.

(*) Well, now curators can hide identifications, but that tool wasn’t available until very recently.

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In general this is done by museum staff or researchers using the collections. Accessing a collection can be quite a task (need to go to a specific physical location, so travel costs can be serious, need to find the specimens and pull them out of storage, need to handle very carefully in the case of older/fragile specimens). Because of this collections are often only examined if there is a specific need or reason like someone doing a specific project, suspicion that there is an error needing to be corrected, or general updating/moving of a collection (the last tends to be very infrequent)


I ID (and study) African butterflies. You’ll find observations of “mud-puddles” (congregations of butterflies feeding at mud, excrement, etc.) featuring several species in the photograph.

My philosophy is that a photo which contains several species is still a record (an observation) of any one of those species. An observations that remains “Pieridae” is much less scientifically useful than an observation identified as “Belenois solilucis” (even if there are also Belenois aurota, Belenois creona, and various Terias in photo).

My approach is as follows:

  1. Discern what the observer is intending to record with the observation, and identify that.
  2. If it’s unclear which individual butterfly the observer is intending to record, and I’m the first identifier, I’ll identify the most interesting (& usually the least commonly recorded) species in the photograph (or, sometimes, ask which is intended).
  3. If it’s unclear which species the observer is intending to record, and someone else has already offered an identification, I’ll follow their lead.
  4. Once I’ve left an ID, write a comment suggesting the observation be split so that species X, Y, & Z can also be recorded.

I feel like this approach is good because:
a. It aims to honour the observer’s intention, it provides them with value (a specific ID), and it directs them to better practice.
b. It, at the very least, leads to the observation being of practical scientific value. (A record of a single species in a particular location is much more useful than a generic record which covers several species.)

(With all that written, I hope I’ve understood the issue being discussed…)


Your way of handling such a case is fine. However, the type of observation that is creating problems is a bit different – not multiple species in one photo, but multiple unrelated photos showing completely different species (for example, a rose, a giraffe, and a pigeon) in one observation. This is a relatively common mistake with new users who don’t realize that they need to create a new observation for each organism. It also sometimes happens to more experienced users, for example, if there are multiple similar-looking insects or birds flying about and the observer doesn’t realize that not all the photos show the same species.


First of all, I’d just like to say that I’m very sorry you had unpleasant experiences, and I’m sad to see you leave iNaturalist. We haven’t interacted much, but I’ve always appreciated all the work I see you putting in.

I think a major part of the “regional differences” in iNat culture come from certain areas previously using a different website which migrated into iNaturalist, with a pre-formed community that still sticks to the culture and rules of the old site.

From my own experiences, I deliberately exclude the African continent from my identify queue, and the only time I venture in there is if I’m specifically tagged in something. It’s just too stressful to interact with. Fortunately California has enough observations to keep me busy for a lifetime anyway…


Thank you so much, @graysquirrel! I normally would have avoided African observations also, because of prior bad experiences trying, but in this case there was an appeal for people to help reduce a large backlog there and I thought things might be different.


I handle those the situations in the same way.

ID the first image (that way something in the observation provides value, and it is an observation of a specific species after all), and request the user split the remaining photos into separate observations.
It’s not uncommon with the mudpuddling scenario that the user will aim to be helpful and post a 2nd, 3rd, 4th photo of close-ups of the species they’re observing, not realizing that photos 2 and 4 are a different species than in 1 and 3.

Edit: I guess I just don’t see any practical upside/benefit for IDing to the lowest commonly shared taxon.

The problem is that you end up with photos 2 and 4 being associated with an ID for species A, when in fact they show species B.

If photos were viewed only in connection with the observation, this would not be a big deal, because one can see an explanation about which photos are what. But this is not necessarily the case – photos may be viewed or distributed in other contexts (taxon pages, downloaded/shared with other sources) with the ID that is assumed to be correct. If it is not obvious (like a giraffe being labelled a rose), then you end up with mislabelled photos that are not recognized as such.

I ask the observer to edit the photos in such a case, of course, but there is a non-insignificant portion of cases where the observer is no longer on iNat and the observation never gets fixed.


First, I think we should remember that everyone here is trying to do the best they can to improve iNat, even though we have different philosophies and ways of going about it. I think it’s also best to acknowledge that there will always be messiness, gray areas, and edge cases.

With the upcoming mobile app, I suspect this problem will be reduced due to the new observation workflow and guidance in it. It will still happen of course, but I think the occurence will be greatly reduced. :crossed_fingers:

There’s official guidance here, although it’s buried and should have its own FAQ.

If you see an observation that has two or more photos depicting different organisms in each, it’s best to identify to the level that fits all photos and make a comment politely asking the user to separate the photos into different observations. For example, if the first photo is a flower and the second is a bug (without the flower), identify it as “Life”. If the user is unresponsive to requests to separate the photos, mark the observation as “Based on the evidence, can the Community ID still be confirmed or improved? No, it’s as good as it can be” in the Data Quality Assessment section.

I can make a new FAQ for that today.

I totally understand where you’re coming from, but I’d say there are a few issues it causes:

  • observations record encounters with individual organisms, and the photos/sounds attached to the observation are evidence of that encounter. So IDing only the first photo is going against the system and definitions everyone is being asked to follow, and on which iNat is based, and it’s an inaccurate evaluation of the evidence provided.

  • Because observations are defined as such, all photos from an observation are included in the taxon browser for the observation’s taxon, which creates confusing and weird situations. The photos might be used to train the computer vison model as well.


Yeah, OK, I had skimmed the help/FAQ pages to see if there was any official guidance, but advice for observers is not where I would be looking as an IDer trying to figure out what the best practice is for dealing with observations with problems.

If I might quibble about semantics:

it’s best to identify to the level that fits all photos

This is ambiguous and would apply to both “ID as life” and “ID to lowest common taxon”.


Thanks! I did added it to the Identifications section as well and tried to clarify the text a bit.


An observation consisting of multiple photos, each of a different species, is a useless observation in its current form. (This is very sad; often the photos are good quality and sometimes one or more of the species is unusual in some way.) It’s important to ask the observer to split the observation, giving the link to some instructions. Sometimes the observer even splits it! But what should we as identifiers do after the observation has sat for months or years in a useless state?

To me, it doesn’t seem to matter much. (Just IDing the first photo seems the wrong answer because it’s misleading, though I’ve done it at times, by mistake.) We just need to minimize the harm the observation causes. Move past it? Fine. Click “reviewed” and move on? Fine. Better options might be to get the observation out of the way for all of us. Label it “Plants” (if the photos are all plants) and comment about the need to split? Fine. Get it out of the way of people IDing plants by IDing it as “Life” with a hard disagreement? Fine. Label it “casual”? Fine (assuming it’s been sitting there for a while; this is not the best choice right away, when the observer might still split it if encouraged to do so).

What wouldn’t be fine would be my putting other people down for choosing a different approach that I would use. My acting as if my approach is THE approach, the ONLY good choice. There isn’t one.

Those of us who ID a lot can become very terse. That could be understood as insulting or arrogant, but it’s generally not intended to be such. (In a few cases, I wonder, . . . but then I suspect I’m seeing the kind of frustration I feel when I explain for the millionth time that the posted plant is Wild Carrot, NOT Poison Hemlock.)

Should we discuss this and establish a “best practice”? Well, we can discuss it until the cows come home, possibly even come to a conclusion, but I don’t think it will matter. Why not? New IDers won’t know about it. Experienced IDers will forget. And some of us (I’m looking in the mirror here) are stubborn bastards and won’t do what we decided unless it’s what we wanted to do anyway.

What might help is putting in a button we can click to mark a multiple-photo-with-multiple-species observation. Then whatever has been done to its identification, it could go out of the way (to “casual”?) until the observer redeems it.