Let's Talk Annotations

Always worth asking! It occurs to me that this might work better as an “evidence type” annotation than as an addition to alive/dead.

Yes. That makes sense. Only identifiers might want this feature.

That’s an interesting point, I haven’t yet used that field (I haven’t created any fields either), nor DwC. Your mention of GBIF brings up another question.

I once tested out the “Determiner” (identifier) field for iNat observations. The Research Grade records transfer to GBIF but, the Determiner field (any field or annotation) don’t seem to (GBIF specifies “identifier” in a different way automatically, but is unaffected by the determiner or identifier iNat fields).

So my question is, are you suggesting any fields or annotations transfer to GBIF or other platforms? Or did you mention platforms mostly regarding how iNat itself functions?

As far as I could tell, I can add fields etc. when uploading obs. But I also don’t see how to do that when identifying obs. by others, on the app.

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Just returning to this conversation to make another case for adding life cycle stage or generation (sporophyte/gametophyte) annotation to non-vascular plants at least (bryophytes: mosses, liverworts, hornworts).

In this group of plants, the presence of sporophytes is particularly useful for identification for two reasons. The first is based on the anatomy of the capsule. Pretty much all botany textbooks I’ve ever looked at tell you that you can distinguish the different classes of mosses by looking at their capsules and spore dispersal mechanisms. So a good picture of a sporophyte capsule can help with ID or at least narrowing down to a class or particular group of mosses, for example.

The second reason is based on timing. I have recently tried to key out a couple of mosses and frequently encountered “fruiting time” as a distinguishing character - aka which months of the year do they show sporophytes. As an example, one couplet of the key I looked at for Bryum was “synoicous, fruiting in late summer and autumn” vs. “dioicous, fruiting in summer.” It might be interesting to see if these bryophyte fruiting times are e.g. affected by climate change in the same way as flowering times in the flowering plants.

Therefore, including an annotation for sporophyte/gametophyte could add value to iNaturalist in several ways:

  1. It would add data about seasonal “fruiting times” to that species’ account similar to phenology for flowering plants. This could potentially serve as a basis for research projects, as well as a distinguishing feature between species with different seasonality.
  2. It would enable knowledgeable identifiers to focus on bryophyte observations containing sporophyte images, and allow the creation of projects focused on sporophytes. That might assist with increasing the number of bryophyte IDs on iNaturalist.

One thing to note here is that sporophyte/gametophyte are NOT sex annotations. It is possible to have both male and female sporophytes (although those are more common in the seed plants), as well as male and female gametophytes (and a lot of bisexual ones in the bryophytes). I think sporophyte/gametophyte would work best as an equivalent of phenology annotation with the possibility to select both sporophyte and gametophyte, similar to being able to select e.g. both budding and flowering. Both generations can definitely be present at the same time, it’s not an either/or case.


This would be useful, and if they proceed with it there is a field “Specimen” Y/N that is currently used by some. The should easily overlap with “pinned/spread” and could be used to populate the annotation.

Hi everyone, linguist here.

I would love to see iNaturalist incorporate the linguistic documentation agenda into their tool. I know there are custom fields for “common name in local language” and “local language used for common name”, but this would be a much more useful field if you designed it as a separate datapoint, with each datapoint containing three fields:

  • dropdown list for language (linked to a database like ethnologue.com which has ISO-639-3 codes for all known languages)
  • specific name
  • generic name

A given observation could then have data for multiple local languages; commenters could also add this data to other’s observations, so that you could (for example) have a native speaker go through a list of observation and enter the data for their language.

With these features, you could quickly build a database of common names from many many languages (of special importance, minority or endangered languages), plus get a simple picture of local taxonomy (because of the generic specific fields).

Here is how I envision it looking on the platform:



Common names should be added under taxon, why having a field and a separate window for that?

You may find this thread interesting?

Hi there, I didn’t know that you could add common names in the species profile. That is really helpful thank you.

What I was envisioning was something that linguistic fieldworkers could use: so for example without knowing what a particular species is they could make an observation and record the local language name. Later, with the help of others on inaturalist, they could identify the species and then the common name would be added to the database.

I like what I am seeing under the taxonomy list, however I think it would be great to have the “lexicon” field linked to language codes like those of ethnologue or glottolog.


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I was just thinking about suggesting adding caste as an annotation, and I see @merav and @kiwifergus discussed it above for termites. For the caste idea, I’d also point out that additional taxa including non-insects have castes, so it has applicability to many species. If castes were added, it would be interesting if it could include all the many termite castes. But if that seemed too complex, a simpler model could be castes in bees. Somewhat generalized terms could be used if needed so that a caste like queen could be equally used for bees or ants, etc., not needing a specific system for each kind of taxa. The species with castes are social, which also makes me think it would be good to add social or solitary annotations. And it would be good to add Juvenile to Life Stage, because it can apply to many species and corresponds to specific castes in some.

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This request has been brought up several times, and in fact @tiwane seemed to be not too averse to implement this. As a matter of fact, just today I was considering to ask for an update about this, so your post was timed well :)


also tagging @jdmore based on discussion.

i’d add, some assume specimens correspond to “dead,” although many think “alive” is more accurate (if marked at all). the time and place indicates when they were alive in the wild. to clarify, i support your specimen idea, but just view them best not marked “dead.” (although you specify one way or the other, so i’m not saying we necessarily disagree or that it’s a problem with the idea).

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some social vertebrates also have castes, e.g. snapping shrimp, naked mole rats. although i’d need to re-check if their caste organization is similar/comparable to social insects. if they differ and only one organization is used as a “model,” bees would be first pick as the most common/familiar one.

Re: Hymenoptera, agreed. Also sex–I’ve been adding pairs to “Mating bees” and just discovered “copulation” here. Was hoping to just click a “both” option, but we also have gynandromorphs where an insect is half male and half female looking divided down the center. I’ve no idea how common this is or if it happens across other creatures.

It’s fairly rare but can happen to any animal as far as I know. There have certainly been reports of gynandromorph birds.

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Could the “Cannot be determined” option for Life Stage be added soon? Without this option, the life-stage-indeterminate records in “without Life Stage” searches remain unaddressable and continue to pile up in the Identify page when trying to annotate life stages of newer records.


In favor of a Life Stage = “Egg” annotation .

(I mean the eggs in this photo are different, notably in color, from the eggs I have occasionnally seen from dragonflies of other species: annotations would notably help compare them and learn diagnostic features)

(as for the behaviour suggested by this photo, i.e., extruding eggs without leaving them on the oviposition site, i.e., somewhat carrying lots of eggs attached to the abdomen from the outside, it looks impressive and, I suppose, abnormal, as I have never seen it before; but I may be wrong. Again, annotations would help find such behaviours and compare them and conclude on the mechanisms and the “normality” issue).

A quite recent thread raised the question if and how one could add photos of the site/biotope corresponding to an observation, say a photo of a pond for the aquatic animal or plant that justifies the observation. Currently such a photo should contain the observed organism visible, thus in the smallest recognizable zoom-out view. This essentially excludes very small organisms, like insects.

Yet adding such “biotope” photo(s) may be of interest, perhaps limited to one such “biotope” photo per observation because of space constraints. If so, a specific annotation could be associated with it. Clearly that would work differently from standard annotations. I suppose this would require a lot of efforts.


Another different issue : making ID ambiguity explicit…

In some cases, identification is possible down to a couple of species, yet the exact species is not reliable, perhaps because the photo is not diagnostic for technical or nearly technical reasons, for example because the angle of view is not informative.

In other cases, there is no technical issue, an interspecific hybrid is suspected, yet there is no proof for hybridization, so that it does not seem reasonable to introduce a hybrid taxon ID (“species x species” format) as a new acceptable ID.

Would it then be useful to add an annotation field that will tag and clarify these situations more formally and more simply than by writing text/comments, I mean a checkbox called something like “type of ambiguity” that would provide the following 4 options : “poor technical quality”, “uninformative angle”, “microphotography needed [for a finer taxonomical level]”, vs “possible hybrid” ?