If a certain subspecies is known, should I go ahead and add the identification for that observation?

This is related to my other post, but I thought it would be better if I made it separately.

I am currently focusing on - Biston betularia cognataria. I have noticed that the Peppered Moth really only had one subspecies - cognataria. It always bugged me that only one subspecies was listed, and it is not even the nominate subspecies Biston betularia betularia. I was initially unsure of whether I should curate the taxon to get access to the other subspecies, since subspecies can disappear or get reassigned to another taxa based on new information. But I did, and now more accurate observations can be recorded with the new intraspecific labels.

The problem is that people do not want to necessarily go deeper to an already confirmed observation that is Research Grade. As far as I am aware of, only the cognataria subspecies seems to exist in the U.S. and Canada. One, BOLD Systems does have contrasta as another subspecies, but I cannot seem to find the exact sequence for it. Two, related to the first reason, no one else seems to have barcoded this subspecies and there are no actual sequences in any other database. Three, no one else has barcoded contrasta probably because no one else has been successful in identifying it. Four, all of the scholarly articles seem to suggest that cognataria is the only subspecies of Peppered Moth found in North Amercia https://books.google.com/books?id=lS2hDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA304&lpg=PA304&dq=Amphidasis+cognataria&source=bl&ots=vcji5QPrkY&sig=ACfU3U06TEG2nJSo7oOAAWZ2xl3juXUEig&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjGwYvT_OHrAhVGCM0KHfCVAtUQ6AEwEnoECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=Amphidasis%20cognataria&f=false. However, the main caveat is that absence of evidence for a subspecies does not mean evidence of absence.

So what should I do? I do not want to through every single observation of Biston betularia in North America and correct them by saying it is the cognataria subspecies. I do not even use the “Is the community taxon as good as it can be?” button because technically those people do have the correct taxon. On the other hand, if I do not correct some of them, then people may not be aware that they can go deeper. Lately, I have been busy doing some of this. An unfortunate consequence is that by suggesting the subspecies over and over again, it appears that I am identifying hundreds of North American Peppered Moths, even more than some experts.

While it would be nice for the sub-taxon to get to one-hundred confirmed observations and possibly aid in Computer Vision, I do not want to put the wrong impression on people. Should I continue to do this?

1 Like

I wouldn’t recommend adding it in a situation where it’s not quite clear genetically, but in other cases adding subspecies id is not a correction and doesn’t affect RG obs, so you’re free to do it.


If this is how you want to use iNat, I don’t think you’re doing any harm. I guess if you find it personally important you can add the subspecies ID. I figure any researcher who wanted subspecies data would be inclined to double-check themselves, any way, though. Checking the “can be improved” DQA seems a bit much though.

Personally I think it’s much more productive to work on the Needs ID queue than to add subspecies IDs. I know there are people who disagree with me.

Are you a Curator? Either way, you can flag the taxon with a request to add the nominate subspecies, and move the species/subspecies-specific discussion there.

1 Like

You don’t need to flag it, if it’s in external databases you can easily add it by yourself by adding an id and click on "search… ".

Computer Vision is not trained to the subspecies level.

I would agree wholeheartedly. Subspecies can be important, but I think the most effective use of time and effort is elsewhere.


Yes, to echo others, there’s so many places to spend time helping out on iNatI This one seems like a pretty low priority. If someone wanted to know the subspecies to use the data, they’d do the research that you’re describing themselves and seemingly decide either:
a) They’re all cognataria anyways
b) No one can be sure given the current state of research.

1 Like

The latest Lepidoptera checklist for North America north of Mexico (Pohl et al. 2016) lists both cognataria and contrasta subspecies, which have published descriptions, a key, and the ranges of both shown in Rindge (1975) . Contrasta is known from a few populations in Utah and Nevada; type locality Eureka, UT. The Ennominae II book linked upthread is dated 2019 and still lists both subspecies as valid. These subspecies should be valid for iNat’s taxonomy and to use in IDs. I was happy to see a few cognataria ssp IDs showing up on my records.


If it is something that can be determined via photo evidence in terms of separating them, if that’s where you want to spend your time, then feel free.

Of course there are other areas that need attention, but other people will have different ideas what to prioritize.

The biggest caveat to me is not being comfortable about doing it based on range maps. Subspecies generally, and invertebrate ones in particular are not greatly studied. I’d ask if doing so based on range is adding data that cant be validated and may potentially be circular in basis.


Why the hesitance here? If a species-level obs is already RG, won’t this have no effect? I guess at that point you might as well be adding the subspecies ID anyway though.

Checking No on that section on an observation with two ssp. IDs makes the Observation Needs ID again, so I’m pretty sure one with a mix of species and ssp will be the same.

1 Like

Ah, got it. Because it’s a DQA flag it knocks the observation out of RG even though all of the IDs are at a RG-sufficient level. That makes sense now that I type that out.


1 Like

Thanks! Although, I am having trouble finding the original document. I was able to go to GBIF and find the two pictures of Biston betularia contrasta. From what I can see, it does not seem to be very different from those of the cognataria subspecies. Maybe it is my inexperience with seeing subjects in the field, but do you see any significant difference when comparing the cognataria subspecies to the constrasta subspecies? If there are, I would happily appreciate any help with the matter. Also, do you think that the two pictures are sufficient to quantify a new subspecies? Again, I have no experience with this, so there is a high probability that I am entirely wrong.

Note - only for people who like humour - not to be taken seriously.
My answer is no. Subspecies are a taxonomic abomination. I know because I say so, and I’m the boss of everything!


See Rindge’s Bistonini revision:

Refine the identification to subspecies wherever you feel it can be done with confidence. Won’t significantly hurt, might help.

I get very frustrated with people in the Pacific Northwest who don’t label the subspecies of Juncus effusus or Phragmites australis. In both cases, the subspecies names distinguish native versus non-native forms (which perhaps should be treated as species).

1 Like

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