Intro and Noobie Question: How Many Observations of a Species?

Hi folks,

What a great app, what a good thing to be doing in general, and what good clean social-distancing-compliant fun.

I read an article about iNaturalist about a month ago and got the app, but just tried it today.

Looking forward to to cataloging our six acres in the North Georgia mountains, plus all the places I hike and bushcraft.

Anyway, my noobie question… How many observations of a given species in one general area are appropriate? Just one, to avoid giving a skewed impression of the population, or more than one to capture multiple views of the same species at different times of year?



Single individual can be posted each day. A species can be posted as many times as you find it, multiple times a day.



" Observations

  1. What is an observation?

Observations are the basic units of iNaturalist. An observation records an encounter with an individual organism at a particular time and location. This includes encounters with signs of organisms like tracks, nests, or things that just died. You should make separate observations for each separate critter you encounter. iNaturalist provides a place to add this information along with associated text, photos, and tags. If you revisit an organism, such as returning to a plant when it’s in bloom for additional photographs, you should make a separate observation because it was observed on a different date."


Also consider that if you return to it on the same day and it is substantially different then you can make it another observation… eg if it is a larvae and on returning you discover it has become a pupa, or a bird that was feeding when you saw it 3 hours ago but is now showing courtship behaviour.

As for how frequently you observe a species, it is completely up to you! Some people try to document every individual (often for select taxa), while others just make observations of things that are new to them or appear remarkable for some reason. Some will only make observations of things which they know the ID of, while others will make observations only of the things they don’t know so they can find out what they are!


@BradGad Welcome to the forum! I really hope you enjoy the iNat app, and the forum. As @Star3, @kiwifergus, and @melodi_96 said, it really doesn’t matter how many observations of a species, it is entirely up to you. :-)


@BradGad glad you have joined us on iNaturalist and here in the forum! I’ll just echo all the great answers above, and also note another discussion on the same topic that may be helpful:


I’m also new to iNaturalist. I learned that we can upload more than one photo of a single organism to an observation, so if you have multiple photos (or sounds, I guess, though I haven’t tried that yet), you can add all of them to a single observation. For example, I have front and back photos of a single hawk–and having both views helped other users confirm a species for me.

As to how many photos: I don’t know if there’s a technical limit but I am trying to show different views, such as the front and back of that hawk, or close-up and wider views. I haven’t uploaded any trees yet, but it seems to me that a wide view plus close-ups of bark, buds, leaves, etc. would be helpful. I am avoiding redundant photos and just picking the best one.

Hoping some more experienced iNaturalist users will chime in to help us both.


As far as I am aware there is no numerical limit, there may be a ‘how much space do they take up’ one, but even then I am unaware of it. There are observations I know of with 20+ photos.

Technically as you note, the photos all should be of the same individual specimen, but you will find that is not strictly enforced.


I don’t know the technical limit to how many photos can be included in one observation, but you are absolutely right that having several photos of different parts of an organism can be very helpful in confirming an identification. For example, if I know that a particular fern can be told apart from a close relative by the placement of sori on the underside of the frond, I’ll take two photos: one of the overall fern and one close-up showing where the sori are on the underside.

Lynn Harper/MassWildlife


Thanks, Lynn, that clarifies it for me.


Yes, for many plants it helps to have the leaves (top and bottom since the hairiness is often a character), bark, flowers, fruit, and overall appearance. Of course most of the time you can’t get all of those at once, especially flowers and fruit together, but more is always better. Same with insects, the more angles the better.


Just to update there is now an active item in the Github list that would establish a limit of 20 pics per observation, so it appears this will be changing.


I was also thinking, if I met the same species four times on a walk (few kilometres apart), is it useful to post all of them - to show how frequent this species is in the area - or is one enough to get the knowledge that it grows there?

Also, the green area on the map is created when there is RG observation of that species or should there be more observations in one area before it turns green?


It only needs one. It may take a little time to update however, especially right now with certain functions on the site data management disabled during the City Nature Challenge.

it is entirely up to you, if you are willing to invest the effort to record them, by all means you can submit each individual one you find.


Thanks for an answer. I am sometimes wondering if I should add all of them to show that it’s a common species there or I’m just overfilling the database with that.


Its entirely up to you and how much effort you want to put into entering data. Neither approach is wrong. There are users on the site who literally document every tree or individual they see, there are others that record 1 record of each species they see and never do another one.

So long as your records meet the site criteria about what is an observation then any approach you choose is valid.


You can’t overfill the databse, so don’t worry about that, the more the better, but don’t overexert yourself with that.


I think showing changes in a species over a year is quite important. I have been photographing a lot of overwintering wild ‘weed’ and grass seed heads (weed used here as shorthand, not as a value judgement). I’ve not only found that there are few seed head pictures on iNat for many of these plants, there are barely any on the internet (at least that I can find and I can be persistent).

So I think documenting a plant throughout its life cycle is important.

Additionally, non-hero shots of birds! Everyone wants to photograph the hero pose of birds but what does it look like from underneath or from the back. It is amazing and frustrating to realize I’m not going to find a photo of a bird from the back end to see if my initial suspected identification might be right. We need lots of angles of animals because most aren’t posing in those hero shots for us.

I’m sure this could apply to other organisms as well and one could expand the variety of shots in many different ways besides angle and time of year.


There are those of us that do capture “non-hero shots of birds”!

although it was supposed to be a hero shot of a bird taking flight, I didn’t realise they jettison cargo in the second before launch!


Lol, that is funny!