Identifiers - what do you ID, and how can observers make it easier to do so?

Well first its not my observation, co i cant put it on another website. And second i already made a ID … am just searching for an iNater willing to confirm, which seems in many cases much more difficult, than to make the ID in the first place.

I have some field time but rarely have much in the way of photo processing time later, so I always use the app too. Either way is fine. One photo is often sufficient, it depends on what you are observing.

1 Like

I did not mean photo processing… my problem with my mobile is that is difficult when you chase a moving object to check the focus. To fix the issue, as I mentioned, i lock magnifiation and zoom, set expo to spot auto and take a lot of pics. When I got time later (any time later, the pics are there in the storage) I just open the iNat app and load the ones which are good in bulk.
Today I discovered (yeah, proably I’m not that smart) that if I keep pressed the shoot button on the screen it goes on and can take kind of 8-10 pics a second. That made me really happy.

1 Like

5 posts were merged into an existing topic: Macro Lenses for Smartphone Cameras

I ID a lot of true frogs (Ranidae). The presence or absence of dorsolateral folds and the markings on the legs are the most important features. Webbing on the hind toes and facial markings can also be useful.


At least for plant identification, I encourage observers to learn jargon like this: If people learn to read keys or consult local knowledge-bases, then the identifying process is more dependable. CalPhotos can be a good resource too. In my opinion, referencing keys is the single best thing observers of plants can do. I would like it if observers made a note if a leaf feels sticky or if petals are hairy.

Information on plants found in Southern California:

Good keys include:

  • Jepson eFlora taxon pages
  • Flora of North America
  • Cal-IPC guides —> especially for Genista monosperma (the note on the villous banner contradicts Jepson taxon page for G. monosperma, but the banner is hairy in photos by California Academy of Sciences and Jason Giessow)
  • UC ANR resources

Plants that I think are not usually accurately identified (usually to the subspecies or variety level) or cannot be identified at the moment are: Eriodictyon crassifolium, Corethrogyne filaginifolia vars., Frangula, Deinandra fasciculata (there are hybrids with Centromadia or other Deinandra spp.), Rhamnus, Washingtonia robusta (can be Washingtonia x filibusta), naturalized brooms and Cytisus scoparius (USDA accepts subspecies of C. scoparius, but not Jepson eFlora), Genista Peritoma arborea (I do not see many identifications of Peritoma arborea var. globosa on iNat that are independent of my identfications), Raphanus, Mesembryanthemum (M. crystallinum was frequently misidentfied around Palo Alto and Fremont), Cakile (it feels like over 95% of observations of Cakile edentula are actually Cakile maritima), Bebbia juncea (no taxon page exists for Bebbia juncea in Jepson eFlora, there is only Bebbia juncea var. aspera), Ceanothus megacarpus, Ceanothus crassifolius var. crassifolius, Acmispon glaber, Eriophyllum confertiflorum, Baccharis pilularis (the more widespread plant is Baccharis pilularis subsp. consanguinea), Adenostoma fasciculatum (varieties exist), Isocoma menziesii var. menziesii, Isocoma menziesii var. vernonioides, Emmenanthe penduliflora var. penduliflora, Nemophila menziesii (the varieties are ok to identify), Encelia farinosa (the varieties are okay to add), Baccharis salicina (what distinguishes this from B. pilularis), Baccharis salicifolia (should maybe be Baccharis salicifolia spp. salicifolia), Baccharis glutinosa, Symphoricarpos albus (should be Symphoricarpos albus var. laevigatus). Also important are the revisions in Revision 7 of Jepson eFlora:

See the unabridged notes:


This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.

I saw a thread about what researchers are looking for and while this question is related it seemed to be a bit more specific or in-depth on that topic.

I am looking for tips from “the experts” in there respective fields about which parts of the organisms they look for the most in speciation. I am asking because I learned recently from a herpetologist some snakes are differentiated by their chin scales. Now if I see a snake I do my best to get a picture of the head as well as the scale pattern on the body.

For instance:
Botanists do you need leaf, seed pod, AND stalk/trunk shots for positive ID’s or is just a flower satisfactory?
Entymologists, are color patterns enough or do you need shots of the antennae and mouth parts?
(I feel like ornithologists can get an ID from almost any picture of a bird I’ve submitted)
What is a good item to carry in my pocket for size comparison when possible?

Thanks for helping this amateur help you and gain a little something in return.

As previous thread, it’s all yo can get will be useful, different species require different part, so if you don’t know what it is photograph everything, for some bigger insets a general appearence will be enough, some yo won’t be able to id with any shots, but try to photograph wing venation, legs and seta on each of them (1 from each pair), if you can get the insect, photograph it’s underside, for beetles do it almost any time, also mouthparts from eachside, elytra and seta on it, also check small eyes and how they’re located, (so it’s 4 shots for the head: top, profile, full face, downside), genital part if you can get the angle. With no ability to do each shot it’s good to just make a shot of each side you can of the whole insect/spider.
For size comparison you can buy a small ruler or a budgt version is a piece of lined (? have no idea how it is called in English) paper, so each square of it is 5mm.

For birds it depends on the group.


For plants it varies wildly, but fruit and flowers are always helpful. In the case of Smilax sect. Nemexia, just make sure to get a shot of the undersides of the leaf.


I’m no “expert” on birds, but I do know how to ID a lot of them (in NA). For a lot of birds, any non-blurry shot will do (sometimes even those work!). However, a good deal also require a high-quality picture of the chest, the head, and/or the side of the bird. Usually, that’s enough for a species ID. But, there are a lot of species that require specific shots of other parts of the bird to distinguish between a few different species. For instance, Allen’s/Rufous Hummingbirds always need a back and/or a tail shot.

1 Like

It is difficult do give generalized answers as it always depents.

However, talking about bugs, trying not to only get a picture from the side but also from straight above will in many cases provide experts with a lot of information, to make an ID if at all possible. For many beetles for example the form of the thorax/neck from above and the side can often be very important to distinguish between similar species. Also traits like number and forms of pores and grooves on the back can be important, so it is nice to have close-ups.
For butterflys the underside is often more important than the upper side of the wings. Still nice to have both.
Insects with transparent wings (dragonflys, flys, wasps, bees…) can often be distinguished with an additional shot of the nervature of the wings.
Spiders…ya well. Species IDs are in man cases difficult or impossible, but for making a family ID the general appearance and also the position of the eyes are really interesting.
I just learned recently that for determining many fungi the underside of the cap can also be very interesting, so try to get a picture from this as well.

Sometimes it is very specific things you need to see to ID a certain species, like a line of hair (e.g. Curcullio) or the underside (e.g.Tetragnatha) or even the rear end (e.g. and now I always look at beetles buts as well ;-))… I think you will only be able to learn this step by step if the identifyer is nice enough to let you know… it can be really enlightening just to ask. Most are happy to share their knowledge.


I don’t know that I can add anything to what’s already been stated, but I’ll make a quick terminology note – speciation is actually how we refer to the process of one species splitting into two. You’re asking about identifying species, an entirely different thing. Not a big deal, your meaning is clear from context, but I couldn’t help mentioning it.


as for plants – it depends.
the flowers do give a lot of information, but in most cases they are not enough.

photos of the general shape of the plant (“habit”) are helpful. a good photo showing the shape of the leaves and and details on them such as hairs. bark, if present. and as for the flowers – it often helps to get a closeup showing the inner parts, as small details on the sexual organs there often differentiate between species. a photo that includes multiple leaves so I can see what pattern they grow on the branch. fruit are helpful if present.
sorry to ask for so much! :sweat_smile:


Great topic! OK, it really depends on the taxonomic key. You wouldn’t expect beginners to know what to photograph.

I usually try to help ID plants I know, and if the photos aren’t good enough, I move on, mostly.

However, consider doing what one nice person did for me. I kept posting Manzanita, and they took the time to say, hey, a photo of the base to see if it has a burl or not would be helpful.

So, please communicate more. Please comment and help people understand what you need. It comes down to engaging more with each other.

It could take more time, but we could maybe learn more.

For plants it can depend on the Genus. If you want to get more serious about identifying things, you need to read a key to that Genus (or Family), and then photograph those characters, or ask that of your local observer base. I find it easier to stick with local people, unless I have a keen interest in a Genus, then I follow all observations.

Some keys need to know if hairs are hairy or glandular hairy, or hirsute, orstellar, etc. This requires a close up of whatever the case may be, leaves, stems, twigs, inflorescence.

For scale, yes, use your hand, finger, or something else. Even a ruler. I’m nerdy and carry a ruler all the time now.

What @silversea_starsong said is correct. We are looking at two-dimensional image of a three-dimensional object. I’ve been very fooled by the scale with no reference point in a close up shot just because I wasn’t there at the time.


Plants: Some groups need more, but at least whole plant, top and bottom of leaf, front and side of flower.


Hi, thanks for composing such a thorough reply and mentioning specific examples. I guess this site seems to focus on getting an identification to species level, but I have come to realize, that different varieties (or subspecies) of a species are very much different plants, when the taxonomy work is solid. So, I understand what you are saying, that until a plant is identified to something that exists in the Jepson eFlora key (for example), it is unresolved.

When you say a plant can’t be identified, what do you mean by this? It is impossible even with good photos? Of course most people are not botanists, and probably don’t realize infrataxa can be important. Once we get to know the plants in our area of focus, this becomes more apparent. I have learned more, and I agree, trying to use the key is helpful.

I’ve seen a lot of Lupinus misidentified, and I won’t be able to find the time to look at all of them. Especially Lupinus nanus vs. L. bicolor. In a photo, it can be hard to see the scale or depth. In person, of course we would have no problem at all. So bringing your eFlora on your phone, or saved as a pdf, is helpful to learn. In other words, try to key things in the field, if possible.

Of course, as you said, some taxa are not accepted by Jepson, but can be used here on iNaturalist. I have found this to be true for Malacothamnus species. These are under study, and there are draft keys, but the current Jepson eFlora key is problematic. When Keir Morse is done with his work, we will have a much better described Genus. The thing about taxonomy is sometimes people inappropriately either split or combined species within a Genus, for lack of better understanding. Much work needs to be done, of course.

So for Malacothamnus, I can use my local Flora that was published in 1970, and get the same answer as Keir Morse, but if I used to Jepson eFlora, I would not find certain species listed. So even authorities are not perfect. The name I pick for the Latin binomial can be subjective, in this regard. My friend likes to add the var. maritima to Eschscholzia californica where appropriate, even though it is no longer accepted by Jepson. While this variety is no longer accepted, it certainly is apparently something different. Perhaps it is more a form, who knows, but it is different. iNaturalist allows these old varieties.

The unabridged note for Rhamnus crocea says that the infrataxa are no longer used, correct? What are you showing us with this link, that we should be aware the Genus and species need more study to resolve what is or is not a species within the Genus? There are intermediaries between the R. crocea and R. insula, it says. The subspecies of R. crocea were considered conspecific by C.B. Wolf in 1938?

Brodiaea are also in need of study. Some populations have been studied and adjusted to be within certain taxa, but more study is needed. I’m suspicious that some could be considered conspecific like B. jolonensis and B. terrestris subsp. kernensis. The problem is study is needed of all the populations of these, and possibly also B. coronaria all at once to compare.

Back to Rhamnus crocea, I do see a lot of variation in the leaf size and color. I was wondering if there were different varieties, but I thought perhaps they must just vary depending on the phenotype and since I see small leaved and large leaved plants side by side, I guess they simply can vary. I would hesitate to even assign the word form to any of them.


For insects I try my best to take a dorsal and lateral shot as best as I can. If I can take a picture of the wings showing the venation then I would include that as well. In terms of spiders I always try to get a picture of the eyes so at least it can be determined to family level. I’ve learned that for fungi the shape of the pores/gills (?) are also helpful to see.


Oh, for plants, what type of soil or wetland they are growing in is very helpful to know. Clay, disintigrated shale, sand dunes, serpentine, etc.