Let's Talk Annotations

Yes, for searching, and also for general identification purposes. Many different users may look at the observation, and they won’t all have the same levels of experience/ knowledge as I do. However, this can just as easily be achieved with observation fields or brief comments.

My own preference would be to remove Teneral, because I think it is far too specialized for an annotation option. But if it must be retained, I strongly dislike having Teneral and Adult, but not Immature. Without the latter option, I feel it invites misuse of Teneral as a synonym of Immature.


Teneral does imply that the change to adult has occurred very recently, which might be a useful indication.


Yes, it implies that the species is very likely to be resident at a given site, since a true teneral usually won’t fly very far from where it emerged. The same cannot be said of immature individuals, which generally spend most of their time away from water feeding. However, the presence of exuvia is an even better indicator that a species is resident, and yet that is currently only an observation field.

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I’ve asked for this one before, and never got a response. For the fish families Labridae and Scaridae, the Life Stage should include values Initial Phase and Terminal Phase. This would be helpful because the different phases often look very different and this is confusing to manhy observers. Some people try to equate Initial Phase with female and Terminal Phase with male, but this is incorrect. Individuals who appear IP can be either male or female.


I wanted to echo my agreement with many of the suggestions in the thread. Having Annotations be a default part of the observation submission process would hopefully lead to a higher degree of use for them.

I would like to see annotations that make a distinction between what ‘kind’ of observation it is - A live animal, or something else. For example tracks are common, but nests, burrow or funnels feel like they should also be categorically different to a normal observation. Another example would be the empty exoskeleton of a Dragonfly nymph left over after emergence. These are all interesting observations, but not really the same thing as an observation of the actual organism. A formal, searchable, filterable way to acknowledge these sorts of observations would be great.


things i’d like to annotate:

  • Condition: Alive, Dead, Diseased / Parisitized, Injured, Dormant
  • Plant Phenology: Leaf Buds, Leaves, Leaf Senescence (?, the leaves are turning brown)
  • Animal Signs: Tracks, Scat, Shelter, Body Parts (ex. exuvia, feathers, fur, bones, cast off skin, shells).
  • Animal Behaviors: Mating, Ovipositing, Eating / Drinking, Sleeping, Shelter Building, Fighting, Hunting, Caring for Offspring

Mark, is there a source you can point to for this? Not that I don’t trust your expertise, but I’m not familiar with this at all and would like to check it out.

Susan, what would the Annotation be for this? Are you thinking these would be values for “Type of Evidence”, should we choose to add that? I would be hesitant to add these as annotations as they’re wordy (I think annotations should be simple and easily translatable) and can’t always be determined from photographs. Probably best suited for an observation field.

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@maractwin, I’m playing around with your suggestions on our test server. Is this what you’d want?

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Could you add “Castes” to ants and termites?
The options should be - queen, male, worker. Or three more - winged queen, winged male, unknown winged reproductive (=alate, but I guess many people don’t know the word)


If you use it, they’ll learn it! A tooltip could define it for anyone who doesn’t know it?


I agree that this is an issue, and there is no way that the millions of observations on iNat should have to be manually updated one-by-one after the fact. The good news is that there is a way to accomplish this for insect life stages. You can add field values during upload, and the field “Insect Life Stage” populates the annotation (the field has a drop-down list of adult/larva etc). This is very handy for someone with 50 moth observations, just select all, enter the field once, and everything is set.

However, we allow people to add multiple “Plant Phenology” annotations, so why not an insect and it’s eggs - at least it’s the same species. And it becomes a much richer observation.

I like this concept, can you add “Specimen” to the list? We get a decent number of those and the only way to track them currently is with yet another field (of which there are many similar options).


This is because an individual plant can be flowering, budding, and fruiting at the same time. But yes, I hear you.


I’ve annotated a few thousand eastern United States Lepidoptera and encountered these unfulfilled needs from annotations:

  1. A way to indicate that an annotation cannot be determined from the evidence in the observation. This could be as simple as adding a value to an annotation category, like Life Stage: Indeterminate. Observations with this value should be removed from the searches for observations without the annotation.

Whenever I search for lep observations without a life stage annotation, I see the same dozens of bagworm moth bags that lack sufficient info about life stage at the time of the observation. And the next time, I have to sift through them all again. There is no way to say “life stage cannot be determined”, so no life stage can be applied, but then there is no way to eliminate these from the search results for “without life stage annotation”.

  1. A way to indicate that an observation should be excluded from the life stage seasonality plots. The common case I encounter is a photo of an intact butterfly wing without the rest of the butterfly. Another is a dead but intact moth engulfed in a fungus. Clearly these are Life Stage = Adult, but the observation should not be part of the Adult life stage seasonality plot because the organism is not clearly alive on the observation date. Perhaps a new annotation of the alive/dead/indeterminate variety would allow these to be flagged, and the relevant seasonality plots would be tuned to ignore anything dead or indeterminate.

Please don’t add an alive/dead annotation for plants, since it’ll be a very common issue that people mark perennial plants in winter as dead, just because the aboveground foliage is crispy. I already see that mistake made in obs descriptions frequently.


This may well be infeasible for reasons I cannot perceive, but: why not rather tag a taxon in the database as annual or perennial, in the same way that they are often tagged with a conservation status? Then if someone tried to annotate a perennial plant in winter as dead, they could be shown a message saying something like “This is a perennial plant. Are you sure it is dead?”

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Aren’t some plants perennial in parts of their range and annual in others? Making this a dichotomy could lead to confusion.


Yes, ‘type of evidence’ would be very good. The list should also include “hermit-crabbed”, which is a very common occurrence in marine gastropod shells.


Not really a request for new Annotations, but I would like to see “Egg” added as a Life Stage for Prototheria. They are the only egg-laying mammals.

I also really like the “Castes” suggested by @merav but I would extend it to all of Hymenoptera, since many of them are eusocial.

I also agree with @bouteloua that an Alive/Dead annotation for Plants would be destructive, but very helpful for Animals.

“Type of Evidence” sounds cumbersome. I would rather use the annotation Spoor, with the possible options under it being Tracks or Feces across all taxa (with any option possible to be selected multiple times like Plant Phenology), but more specific options for certain taxa, e.g. Fur for mammals, Feathers for birds, Exoskeletons for arthropods, Shells for molluscs, and Shed Skin for reptiles.


I would like to have the photos on the suggested ID match the “life stage” annotation for the observation. That is, if I am identifying a caterpillar, photos of caterpillars will be very useful, but photos of the adult moth will not be helpful at all. If not life stage is specified, it could show a mix of photos. This would go nicely with the suggestion to add annotations during upload.


I encourage you to reconsider this point in light of the fact that the iNat team has elected to leave the “chaos of the Fields” alone:

There are many overlapping fields as pointed out on other threads, but some are useful and a standardized annotation may be a solution. I’m thinking specifically of a quant measure of the number of organisms. The “Count” field is my preferred example. It seems to be widely used and is simply, and clearly, named.

A benefit to this is that it would provide a single annotation/field that could also be exported to GBIF. There is a DWC field “individualCount” that seems like a natural home for a quantitative value like a count of organisms in an observation.

Which leads to the related question: are annotations going to be exportable, either by users, or to platforms like GBIF? please see this thread on the topic:

The Life Stage annotation is another example of something that can be mapped to the DWC field “lifeStage”.