Life stage annotations for “Recent Evidence” observations (e.g. leafmines, galls, juvenile feathers)

I’ve been annotating Lepidoptera with life stage. I’ve been ignoring any leafmines as I’m not sure what the best thing to do with them is.

Should I tag a leaf mine as larva since it is evidence of larvae even though it may now be a pupa? It is unlikely to be obvious from a photo whether there are still active larvae.


I have been wondering the same thing, but for galls! I would like to add more annotations to things but feel rather stumped with them.


In my opinion, if the miner is still in the mine, it would be larva. If the miner has left the mine, it would be adult.

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If it is not clear whether it is larva or pupa, just leave it un-annotated. This is similar to not being able to determine if male or female, and we leave those blank. If we start guessing, then we undermine the value of all the correctly annotated observations.


Some after thoughts…

Often the mines widen as the larva grows. If there are mines of various terminal sizes, I think that would be strongly suggestive of larvae being present, so could be confidently marked larva.

You could annotate larva and set the “recent evidence of organism” if the mines look fresh-ish. However that DQA is more relevant to IDs than to annotations, and it wouldn’t be consistently applied by all identifiers nor would it be obvious to filter lifestage that way.

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My thinking is that regardless of what stage the actual organism is at, the mine is evidence of the larva existing, so it could be marked as that either way. But then I’ve been thinking that cicada exuviae are evidence of the nymph and others think they should be marked as adult.

My understanding was that the purpose of “recent evidence of an organism” was to filter out fossils etc., so I’m not sure if it would apply here.


Yes, that generally means “organism was alive within the last century” or so.


Yes, “taxa was here, not here right now” is more specifically how I interpret it. I see fossil evidence of leafmines as being an extreme case of the situation and not relevant to the discussion becasue we are talking about lifestage, which kind of implies “at some stage during the individuals lifespan” and anything that creates a leaf mine is not likely to live longer than 100 years, nor have stages that might be differentiated outside of that timeframe.

My point regarding annotations and the DQA setting, is that we can’t use “recent evidence” in relation to a lifestage annotation of “larva”… the mine is recent evidence of the larva being present, but if the larva was there in the winter and the observation is during the summer, then there is a false linking of the summer date with the presence of larva at that time. It is fairly clear that the DQA setting regarding the presence of the taxa generally at that time would be used to filter it out, but the larval lifestage I don’t think anyone would think to filter out based on that DQA.

In other words, if you are looking to see what times of year a certain species has larval observations for, would you think to also exclude those observations that had the DQA “recent evidence” set? Would that observation from the summer showing a larval lifestage be included?


I don’t think exuviae should be given lifestage annotations, unless there is a lifestage “exuviae”. If not, I would leave it blank and set “recent evidence”, and iindicate that it is an exuviae with a field. We do that for teneral, from memory.

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It looks like teneral is a life stage option for Odonata for me.

If we found a moulted feather that could clearly be identified as coming from the juvenile plumage of a certain species of bird, could we mark an observation of that feather as juvenile? (I think so…) (Also sorry if this is getting too off topic - I think these are all related questions)

Keep in mind, I am not staff or development, just another user and these are my thoughts and interpretations…

I wouldn’t put a lifestage on anything other than the live animal itself. In similar circumstances to the leaf mines, if we annotate that feather in June as a juvenile feather, then we are false associating the lifestage to that month if the feather was “lost” in December when the bird was a juvenile.

Think of it like this… the animal has lifestages, and it is going to be progressing through those lifestages… egg, chick, juvenile, adult… and so on… but the feather will not change. It is a juvenile feather forever (or as long as it persists). It will never become an adult feather, it was never an egg feather. Lifestage applies to the living organism, not the evidence it leaves behind. You might infer from the feather that it is evidence of the lifestage that the bird was when it lost the feather, but not what stage it is at at the time of the observation of the feather. The DQA setting therefore becomes a way of saying “I only want to see observations of actual live animals, and exclude all those that are not depicting the live animal.”

I personally identify empty cicada exuviae as adult, because the individual that left that exuvia is an adult at the time of observation. Though, I might consider adding it as a field to my Cicada Exuviae project

How long do cicadas live for as adults? Is it possible that you might be adding “presence of adult” data when in fact there are never adults at certain times of the year?

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Well i would say a a juvenil feather is evidence for a juvenil bird, an eggshell is evidence for an egg and an hatched pupae is evidence for a pupae. And the date of observation is the date i found this evidence. A leaf mine is certainly evidence for a mining larvae within the leave. Neither pupae nor adults produce leaf mines … so how can a leaf mine be evidence for pupae or adults?.

If i find evidence for the existence of a certain animal at a certain life stage then i record this life stage and animal at the date i observe it. What the animal that left the evidence does at the time of my observation is highly speculative … and largely unimportant. Data collection for science is about reporting facts, not imaginary stories.

I dont think that there is any way that data from museum specimens or community science websites can be used in scientific works, without the researcher looking at the specimen or the photo evidence given on the website. At least unless the introduced error is acceptable. Just my 10 cents.


@tiwane are observations marked “recent evidence” included in the annotation graphs?

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I am sorry to lead the discussion further away from the specific title and more into the general aspects of ‘life stage’ annotation, but I feel the need to answer here.

On the taxa pages, iNat has built in these wonderful phenology diagrams, with ‘life stages’ in insects indicating when, during the year, the different stages occur. These graphs are fed by the annotations given on specific observations. As the intrinsic meaning of these graphs refers to living individuals found at that time, annotating traces of living organisms (such as leaf mines without the insect still in there) would impact those graphs in an unintended way.

So whenever I find on, say, an uncleaned window sill a dead moth in winter (without evidence of it being alive shortly before), or a mantis ootheca in autumn or empty exuviae from cicadas or dragonflies, I refrain from annotating them. Yes, they indicate a certain life form was there, but not at the time of observation.

Would be great to annotate them still, with a toggle to opt-out of contributing to the phenology, but this is a rather niche request, I’d say :slightly_smiling_face:


This is why I queried @tiwane about whether those phenology graphs filter out or include “recent evidence” observations. If they filter them out, then the graphs are not impacted, as most situations would have that DQA set.

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If they are impacted, then we would need to look at setting “date inaccurate” to effectively detach the connection between lifestage and date… Not ideal at all…

Most leaf miners pupate within the mine, and for many it is not detectable if it is larva or pupa. Also consider your cicada exuviae example, if the leafminer exuviae is present it would, according to your comments above, be considered adult.

Lots of interesting discussion here. I think discussions of juvenile feathers are relevant too. I might update the subject if I can think of something suitable.

That was why I haven’t tagged them*.

The disadvantage of not tagging them is that there is no easy way if finding photos of the juvenile live stage. That could be useful for many reasons including the possibility of training the image recognition to distinguish life stage in future. If someone wanted to fine leaf mines most photos are likely to be of the mines (so filtering out adult would work) but finding photos of a juvenile bird feather would be tricky.

I can see both sides of the argument for tagging things like empty exuviae from cicadas or dragonflies. It is evidence that an adult was there but it is also evidence that the species is breeding there.

I think not tagging is probably best in all these cases unless there is a way of excluding them from the graphs (or there will be in the near future and we know how it will work now).

* With the exception of my own observation where I could see larvae moving plus I think a couple where the observer had indicated that larvae were present. I also tagged a pupa where the butterfly had clearly emerged (as a pupa).

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