If we took an iNaturalist approach to real life

If we took an iNaturalist approach to real life:

“Well, I think that’s my friend Adrienne, but I’d need closeups of the eyes, hair, mouth, and hands to be sure.”



It could be a human. It has forward facing eyes and pretty square teeth. But without photos showing the pelt on the back the back and the finger nails, along with trunk-to-limb ratios and some indication of nesting habits – – it can be hard to be sure.’


I have the reverse problem! I see a familiar plant, and instantly recognize it - and then someone asks me how I know, and I have to stop and rack my brain for a minute to come up with some ID features I can give them. I’m sometimes tempted to say “I don’t know, how do you know which of your kids is which?!”

On the other hand, if I encounter a familiar person in an out-of-context place, I almost certainly won’t recognize them - so perhaps I do need to make ID keys for the people in my life. Do you think anyone will object to me taking fingernail and nostril hair measurements?


I have face blindness…so basically, yeah.

If you grow a mustache, change your haircut, get new glasses, etc; I won’t know it is you until I update my mental database of the variations you can look like. Literally no different from learning various taxa. It is both a benefit (once i see the specific reasons, i can find them easily - the needle jumps out of the haystack) and detriment (finding similarities, groupings, or if there is an odd presentation, all these I am lost until that data/note/subset is mentally added - ex dark morph eastern tiger swallowtails - wtf is this? oh gotcha, I see what it looks like, and can pick it out even on butterflies in flight vs similar looking ones no issue)


I recently used my iNat data from the past few years to make a little wildlife guide for the most common things seen at a private festival some friends of mine organise. I was considering making a joke page for the end with photos of some of the more visually/acoustically distinctive regular festivalgoers and our model skeleton, along with their diagnostic features and typical behaviours. Didn’t end up having time, perhaps in next years edition…


“What kind of car was it? Who was in the car?”

“I don’t know, I never pay attention to cars. Brown-ish, I think? An SUV, I’m pretty sure. I didn’t look at who was driving.”

… some time later, I develop an inexplicable interest in cars…

“It was a 2015 Honda CR-V EX-L SUV in the White Diamond Pearl colorway. A bit of a horizontal scratch on the driver’s side. Two adult and one juvenile humans inside, plus a dog. Why do you ask?”


Yes. Yes. All the yes.

Sometimes when people ask: “How do you know it’s this type of reed?”

I want to say this: “Because it looks like that type of reed and not the other one.”


Same Thing with me, someone asks how do you know that that is that and not that and I say it just looks different.


It’s like birding by GISS, general impression of size and shape. First time you see a new bird you have to figure it out, as you see it more often you just know which bird it is. Many local plants are like this too. After a while, you can’t recall why it’s that species, you just know it is. This really comes in handy when seeing a similar species, some thing just seems off and you know you need to take a closer look.


Reminds me of this video that went viral several years ago about how to identify an Aspen (Populus tremuloides).


I don’t even need to click … reminds me of the Monty Python sketch about “the LARCH”


A bit of useful technobabble for these situations is: gestalt identification methodology. When asked why something is IDed as such, just say that. Definition


Wow, I didnt know that there was a word for this but ill be using it alot.


people whose natural history skills are mighty, but who cannot be bothered to waste precious brain space remembering

Might as well update my iNat bio with this :laughing:


sometimes I would like to have a computer vision model to remind me of people’s names as well…


I suspect if I took that approach I’d end up with several restraining orders.


I am familiar with gestalt language processing, but did not know it was an ID methodology too. This occurs to me as well - it can be hard to explain the details once I learn them because…it’s…obvious??? I mean, I know it isn’t, but to me it is, haha (see also the whole why i keep a running list of the key ID features to copy/paste in when ID’ing things for others - once known, i’ll have trouble remembering the specifics! Best I can describe it is the “image key” is formed - the “whys” are lost.)

Thanks for sharing that!


I had to look it up the first time I saw it in an observation comment. Granted, it’s the fanciest way I’ve ever seen to say, “I know what it is, but I can’t explain why.”

However, I think part of identifying anything works a bit like skilled sport, ballet, basketball, etc. The more one practices, the better one is able to recognize specific taxa. On paper, it might just be throwing a ball or repeating a motion, which is analogous to the differences in a dichotomous key, but seeing the same taxa over and over again gives an overall sense of how it presents itself which is hard to describe.


I’m faceblind, so this is pretty much what I have to do until I’ve been around someone long enough one-on-one to recognize their face. I have to keep a mental checklist of people’s physical characterisitics and then try to figure out who the heck I’m talking to based on that checklist. This becomes increasingly difficult if there are multiple people in the environment (ie: workplace, usually) who share characteristics.

Same height, hair color, skin color, general build, and no unique characteristics like especially flashy jewelry or tattoos or dyed hair?? nope, sorry, don’t know who that is.

The first time I watched Battlestar Galactica (2004), I thought Sam, Lee, and Tyrol were all the same character for forever because they’re all white guys with dark hair and my brain is just incapable of remembering faces or names unless they all have some Defining Feature that sets them apart or their names get repeated twice a scene.


I could see a future phone app that has facial recognition software – snap a pic of someone you should know and remember and see if they show up in your phone database. Would make recalling acquaintances much easier, but you’d have to get past the rudeness of photo’ing them before engaging in conversation. Maybe a voice recognition app …