Identifying by gestalt

This is pretty much the only reason I have learned a lot of the technical terms for plants and insects I’m interested in. I realized I need to recognize what my subconscious was picking up on or else I’d just seem crazy to other people!

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not only explain one’s IDs, but also rework them on occasions (sanity check routine: cross-examining one’s Gestalt IDs of the past in light of boring taxonomic keys, or of new literature, or of second expert opinion); sleepless nights and inattention mistakes happen, jizz huh ‘giss’ skill may improve, taxonomies undergo splits and lumps, etc. :)
Heuristic approaches work wonders – until they eventually no longer work.

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I agree. I think there’s the potential for a lot of confirmation bias in IDing quickly moving/escaping subjects this way (by gestalt) - we only get our feeling of the ID, but then there is no chance for us to be proven wrong, since the subject is gone! Almost all humans default to giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt.

That’s not to say that people can’t ID with a pretty high confidence using gestalt - they definitely can, just that we tend to overestimate the accuracy.

One thing that I like about IDing on iNat is that the evidence is in the photo, so I don’t have to rely on that flash for the ID - I can take my time and work through what characters are available for tough IDs. On iNat, I don’t personally add IDs if all I have is gestalt. It’s a starting point, but if I can’t produce a clear chain of reasoning for my ID in my mind that backs up the gestalt, I don’t consider myself confident enough to add an ID at that level.

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Another thing I like about iNat, since it is virtual, the ID is not carved in stone. They can, and do, shift as taxonomy changes or new taxon specialists are active on iNat.

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I remember a friend and I laughing that the rare birds were (nearly) always the ones that got away!

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That’s amazing your son has that gift. I had to work on it myself. I’m at a point now where I can identify trees out of my peripheral vision while driving down the road, but it took years to get there (without compromising safe driving!) With fairly good accuracy I can determine what any individual tree is almost instantaneously and mentally say to myself “young ash, old dead ash, older dead elm, young elm, maple, beech, oak, cottonwood, tree of heaven, catalpa, mulberry, sycamore, black locust” etc. It’s interesting what our minds can do to process information so quickly, and filter out irrelevant details to make determinations on what something is, or isn’t.

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When i first heard that word in its identification sense, I imagined someone had taken a sample and was studying it with a microscope. ‘Surely’, I thought 'it would be easier just looking at the adult animal '.

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Ha! Well, it works with pollen, though most people would use a different choice of words…

I wonder if people really do overestimate it. I think if anything i understate it a lot on here because of the need to be able to be back things up. It would be a fun test to do a bunch and go back and look closely to see if people are actually overconfident or not. I would guess i am not. But maybe that’s overconfidence speaking :laughing:

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I have done informal stuff like this, essentially roadcruising for herps, IDing them on the fly and then turning around to catch/find them and allow a more detailed look.

Based on this experience, I’ve found I am definitely impressed how good the brain is at IDing with very little info, but doing this is also definitely not as accurate as IDIng with a better, sustained look.

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I once IDed a snake on the road as a Desert Kingsnake as I shot past it and proclaimed that to my passenger. I turned my car around fast and went back to the spot to find a discarded bungee cord that had a color pattern similar to that of a kingsnake.

But yeah, much of the time when roadcruising I can ID what I see before I even stop and get a closer look. That’s largely because I know the relatively small number of possible species I can expect in the places I’ve roadcruised.

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oh i don’t argue that stopping and looking isn’t better :) Just that i also set my bar higher for confidence, like the questionable ones i just wouldn’t call out unless i can touch them and look closely. But yeah, this is one of the main things human brains are adapted to do and it is pretty neat.

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Absolutely, only with things I’ve seen many times in the past. I’ve always called it “IDing by vibe” there’s even some species that I always thought looked slightly different in certain areas, turns out they’re to be split eventually

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I have this dilemma a lot with moths that “require dissection to identify”. For example, when I go through the Xanthotype, I see ones like this:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/189816912
I’d be willing to put money on this being X. urticaria, but I couldn’t say why. I’ve been pulling these out of moth traps for 25 years and dissecting them to get them named, and I have boxes full of them separated into species at this point, and this is a dead-ringer for the “gestalt” of urticaria, but if I suggested that ID, I’d have nothing to defend it, and I’m sure it would get disagreed with and put back to genus. I don’t think “trust me, I’ve seen these a lot and I know them well” should satisfy anyone as grounds for an identification. But it’s also why I hesitate to ever use the “ID is as good as it can be” option in these cases, because eventually someone may crack the difference in a less “vibes-based” way, and when that happens, the IDs will be improvable on a lot of these specimens.

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This occurs both ways though. Against gestalt IDs (“trust me, I’ve seen these a lot: in this very context it’s almost certainly X”) you get anti-gestalt counter-IDs (“trust me, I’ve seen these a lot: ID by gestalt does not work and context does not help”). Both are daring forms of inference based on personal experience, albeit in opposite directions.

That sounds plausible to me - not that I am familiar with the Genus. There could well be something, which you just don’t see from even a reasonable number of samples, but with enough it becomes recognizable even though you can’t say what it is.

It would be an interesting test to get enough pictures of identified specimen and feed them to AI for training and then see what happens. If the AI could pick them after that, there is a difference - we just can’t name it yet.

And I can often name roadkill butterflies while driving by. Sometimes they even seemed good enough to go back and collect. And they were. :grinning:

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Another option that might be interesting would be running a geometric morphometric analysis on a bunch of photos. You mark “landmarks” that you feel are relevant to the shape or appearance (wing shape edges, possibly the positions of predictable color markings, etc.) and then it compares their arrangement while adjusting for different individuals being slightly bigger/smaller, at different angles, etc. I know that for some of the “variable” species that were split into multiple species initially because of DNA evidence, geometric morphometric analysis found small but consistent differences in the shapes among the new species.

The advantage to this over AI is that it is clear about what the differences are (longer, narrower, different angle, etc.). The downsides are that it only looks at the things you tell it are important and you have to go through and mark all the landmarks

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I’m nowhere near guessing most IDs (just hit my year and a half point). I have trouble as it is remembering most of what I’ve seen by any name, scientific or common.

But! I do seem to have developed a related ability that maybe is also very handy. I notice, intuitively, something new. That is, newer than what I’ve already observed.

It’s especially helpful for crawling, flying little stuff where I have to make an instant decision in a busy environment, which pursuit is worth committing observation time to.

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