Let's Talk Annotations

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”.


The discussion is a bit difficult but i would like a few fields which are different populated with different groups (birds has another value list as fish and fish has another list as plants). I understood it was not good for observation fields so maybe it are annotation fields. https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/standardize-and-clean-up-observation-fields/363/12

I made a proposal https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/propose-a-default-basic-set-of-observation-fields/438

The same field appearance’ (plumage) for Birds (=1)
The same field ‘appearance’ (plumage)for fish(=9):
The same field ‘appearance’ (plumage) for Plants(=8/10):

And another field with stadium with for example the next values

First implement it with fields. If it works well and has widespread usage, I would think it would get taken up as annotations

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A couple of thoughts

  1. It is already sort-of possible to add annotations during a bulk upload: use a corresponding field on the selected observations. I use the field “Insect life stage” a lot, and the matching Life Stage annotation gets added automatically. I realize that creates a redundancy, but it is convenient.

  2. Just an idea: generate annotation stats and add to user profiles (i.e., # of annotations a user has made = # of annotations added + # agreed with + # disagreed with). I guess you could then also make a leaderboard too. Unlike numerous other open stats about my or any user’s/curator’s activity, there appears to be no quantification of these contributions right now. Side note: similarly, since they’re already being tallied, why not add the curatorial stats on a curator’s profile page.


with so many leaderboards, it might just be easier to hand out medals for participation! I try to add value to observations whenever I can, and I encourage others to do so too… I don’t get worried if I miss a few annotations here and there, and I am certainly not going to compete with anyone to do so. I did get a little excited about the competitive side of CNC for a bit there, but it quickly got replaced with the oohs and aahs of seeing what is being observed, of meeting new people, of being able to contribute and feel a sense of belonging… oooh getting too mushy now…


Yeah, @kiwifergus, I hear you. I’m indifferent to the leaderboards too, hence not specifically advocating for that, just mentioning it. But, hey, if it motivates some people to contribute more, why not?


case in point re oohs and aahs on stuff I have never seen before:

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I’m planning to use the annotation feature for some new botany research projects I’m starting this season. Two things would make this easier/better:

  • plant phenology (which really looks like reproductive phenology) needs a vegetative option. At the moment, a plant without fruits or flowers can’t be annotated. If there was an option for ‘vegetative’, or ‘non-reproductive’ or something to that effect, we could select that. Without this option, I can imagine we’ll eventually see the same, growing, group of vegetative photos every time we repeat the same search for un-annotated photos.

  • it would be nice to allow multiple selections for plant phenology, as many species flower and fruit simultaneously




You can already do this one:


I wanted to open this back up, because it has more applications than have been thoroughly discussed.

There are countless applications for land managers to use an alive/dead annotation (which could be added to the Life Stage annotation as a “Deceased” option), a healthy/ill annotation (New annotation under “Apparent Health”), an in-situ/proxy annotation (Under a “Presence” annotation). I think it would be appropriate to test these under Class Mammalia for starts, just look at how many mammal observations are just tracks and bones in the National Park Service. There are enormous differences in the usability of data from alive, verifiable specimens and dead, unconfirmed specimens.


Just wanted to add in that currently, that some folks are interpreting “bud” as “leaf bud,” as mentioned in this topic, so if even if no other stages are added, clarification would be helpful.



When I add observations or identify I would like to be clear about the Plant Phenology choices.

Attribute Plant Phenology choices: Flowering; Fruiting; Budding (in this order)

Please clarify if budding refers to leaf buds or flower buds. Could that be made clearer by adding leaf budding or flower budding to the Attribute choices?


My understanding is it refers only to flower buds. I agree the wording could be a bit more clear.