If you encounter any life form, would you be interested in spending your time to identify the life form, or would you just observe its ecology?

A couple of years I saw a Lizard which did feed on a butterfly, which was mating with its partner. Interestingly the lizard didn’t eat the other butterfly. And also the other butterfly did not fly off(considering that the butterfly would know the presence of lizard). This observation triggered my question.


When you make photos or record video or sound, you do both at once.


When you say, observe its ecology, I assume you mean a type of “simply watching it”. I prefer the latter, in just observing ecology. Observing came first for me in how I appreciated life, identification came second as I intellectually became interested in how people classify different things. First however, just watching the ecology was where I found something special that has gifted me time and time again, especially when I spend time in nature. For me I’ve started to see things different and in a way its an exercise to see the world from the point of view of what you see rather than yourself.

Many observations “get away” from me because I just watch whatever is going on! I’m always amazed sometimes what I manage to see with some patience.


I want to identify it, but not at the expense of observing. To me the purpose of identifying an organism is to put observations in context, so that you have a community body of knowledge. Even if I were alone in the world, I’d want to be able to group my own observations based on some form of observed identification, even if it might lead to false equivalencies since organisms that aren’t closely related can look and behave similarly, especially when only observed in limited situations.


I never got the ID of a butterfly or a lizard (although likely was a common fence lizard) because I saw it jump off the tree trunk from about 2 feet up, to catch the butterfly I was pulling out my camera to get a photo of (completely did not shoot a single photo btw because i was in awe at this), the lizard completely missed, not just the butterfly but the landing - you see the tree was right on the edge of a lake - and a huge fish came right up and grabbed the lizard as soon as it hit the water surface and ate it. #nature xD This is still my favourite observation! So…yeah…observation wins out for me over the photo to ID. I litterally was enthrawled so much with the scene playing out i never did get a photo of that lucky butterfly as it fluttered on its merry way.


I personally cannot separate the two. I definitely want to be able to identify the specimen so that any observations of its ecology would be specific to that taxon.


I always want to identify first. Because without an ID, I cannot make sense of any observations. “A small bird ate seeds from two kinds of weeds” tells me very little. “A Lesser Goldfinch ate seeds of Chicory and Sow Thistle” tells me very much.

I am so ID-oriented that if I observe an organism that I cannot identify, it usually doesn’t even occur to me to include the observation in my field notes. Brief glimpse of a “little brown bird” – might as well never have happened, if you look for it in my notes later on.



1 Like

Wow…that situation literally got Infront of my eyes while reading your description

Both. Sometimes it isn’t possible to observe for a long time, in which case, ID only (for a species presence record, and whatever bit of its ecology can be seen in a photo). At other times it’s possible, in which case, ID + detailed observation of behaviour/ecology.

I would never go for observation without an attempt at ID, that’s too vague a record for me personally (besides being too vague for a citizen science database).


First, if feasible, I try to capture a decent image before the organism goes off. Then, I love to watch it to try to understand it’s behavior. I don’t have a biology background, so I have lots of questions. Last summer, I watched ladybug larva for weeks and learned so much. But, often, my questions stay around for quite some time.

‘Why is that insect flying so frantically in seemingly random patterns? Why doesn’t it sit on a plant to rest or eat?’

‘What is that noisy bird communicating? Is it just saying ‘I’m here, I’m here, I’m here’ or ‘there’s water here, water here’ or ‘there’s a cat, there’s a cat’?

‘Why do the egrets choose to all roost in that particular clump of trees over and over. What is it about those trees and not the ones 100 yards away?’

‘How do those little sand flea things all know I’m walking along 4’ behind them?’

‘Did that leaf miner emerge or is it still in there?’

‘Aphids, scale, ants… how did they get interdependent?’

Sometimes, I go try to look up answers and sometimes I just drift on to the next organism.

If my obs gets ID’d, It is very nice for me to follow the Wikipedia links on iNat to see what it says about the organism.

So, I’m grateful to all those who have the skills and interest to contribute to identifying stuff on iNat.


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