Lost placeholder

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Step 1: I have been lodging insect images including moths on iNat since 2020 and always put in a place holder. I am confident of the species of many of the moths but after they have been entered the identification is changed to the useless and non specific Lepidoptera and the placeholder is lost. Is there any way the species placeholder can be maintained so that those with the necessary expertise can either agree or disagree with the species. Geoff Byrne

Step 2:

Step 3:

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do you have a link of an example observation where this has happened? I know the likely answer, but want to check

The placeholder disappears with a new ID. It is not lost. If you ask the person to delete the "useless and non specific Lepidoptera " ID it will reappear. I usually made a sometime cryptic note of the placeholder but not everyone does it. It really is time to make definite changes to preserve the placeholder in a comment.

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If you haven’t selected the taxon name you entered a placeholder from the drop-down menu when you enter it, your observation stays as ‘unknown’ and unsearchable, and your placeholder is only visible if someone clicks on your ‘unknown’ observation. It is unlikely anyone will be able to see and confirm your observations and their identifications like this, as they can quickly get lost in all the other ‘unknowns’. That is why people are adding the ID of ‘Lepidoptera’, they are trying to help so people who know this group can find your observations.
If the name isn’t available when you enter it, you can search for it at the bottom of the drop-down menu. Often that will bring it up. If that still doesn’t work, perhaps ID it to the lowest you can (e.g. genus or family), and enter the name you believe it to be in the description.
If you still remember what you IDed them as you can override the ‘Lepidoptera’ ID by re-entering your more specific ID.
Apologies if I’ve told you what you already know!


The moth images were of Traminda mundissima photographed on 13th Nov 09 and that was entered as the placeholder. The identification of Lepidoptera removed the placeholder and directed me to a gallery of images from the Kimberley that had 2 images of that species. I went back to my entry and added the placeholder again.

There are three reasons why a placeholder gets formed:

  1. You typed in the name correctly, but then didn’t click the dropdown option that appears for that species. You must click that dropdown otherwise the ID won’t register.
  2. You typed in the name and misspelt it
  3. You typed in the name correctly, but the name wasn’t in iNat yet. In cases like this you can pick the ‘search for external name providers’ dropdown option to try and find it for you.

Option 3 was not the case here because it’s a common species.

So that means for your moth observation, you either a) misspelt the name typing it in, or b) typed it but didn’t click the dropdown option. Someone then came along and found your observation with no official ID, and added their ID of ‘Lepidoptera’ to move it out of unknown. So the only way placeholders disappear is when someone adds an ID.

When I encounter placeholder names, I’ll add an ID that either matches that placeholder (either by correcting the spelling, or adding the species to iNat), or add a coarser ID (if I don’t recognise the species) and explicitly type what the placeholder was as a comment so it doesn’t get completely lost. The user didn’t do that for your case.

So to summarise, when your placeholders are disappearing, it is not a bug, it is because someone has added an ID (with the placeholder forming in the first place from either you misspelling the name and it not registering, the species not being in iNat, or you not clicking on the dropdown option)


Keep in mind you did not add your placeholder again; you added an ‘actual’ ID


No, it is not a bug, but poor design.

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I’m sorry, I don’t understand why, if you know the correct identity, you don’t add it yourself when you upload the image.
Please remember that you can’t just hit “enter” once you have typed the name; you have to select it from the drop-down list.

Like Lisa, apologies if I’ve told you what you already know.


True, but luckily there is a workaround for the problem, if someone has a lost placeholder that can’t be simply “reproduced” by a followup identification (such as, for a complex or new species that hasn’t been added to the taxonomy here yet)

  1. Go to the observation’s page
  2. In the url bar, add “.json” to the end of the url (omit quotes)
  3. Hit return to reload as the .json
  4. See a wall of text. In one of the first few lines, see the lost placeholder listed as “species_guess”
  5. For something you can’t yet add as the desired id, it’s fine to add either a line to the description field, or add a comment on the obs, stating the issue. Even better, add the comment while updating the id to the best taxon that does currently fit the obs (perhaps to a Tribe or something like that).

Since the placeholder will always disappear as soon as an ID is added, it is better to write the text as a comment (that stays!)


The people who will have the most problems with placeholders are the new or inexperienced users and the identifiers adding a name, in this case Lepidoptera. They are not going to know how to retrieve the placeholder. If there is a placeholder. That is why the placeholder needs to be stored automatically and permanently in a comment.

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Really you should not be entering a placeholder at all, you should be entering an identification (type the species name, then select the correct option from below). As others have stated, placeholders are not designed for your purposes - that is, stating your identification and expecting community feedback. As long as you make your placeholder into a true ID, you will most likely get the response you want.


I have stated above what the real problem is. Often inexperienced people who are struggling with the correct spelling of either the latin name, without author - many users tried adding authors or different spelling or the common name which are often different from the one in their field guides. If only a small percentage of 50 million observation is entered with a placeholder being carelessly “deleted” by a
indentifier entering Lepidoptera or Plantae, means potentially hundreds of thousands of observations.

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Melodi_96 Note that I nowhere called Lepidoptera ID’s useless. The "useless and non specific Lepidoptera " is a direct quote from the first post. Please read the post again and respond to the issue of missing placeholders.

I am one that often copy placeholders, or at least a notion of it. I would prefer not to do it as it is wasting time on my present slow internet. Any note that I make often cause the ID to disappear.

Adding a notification when a placeholder added (as was implemented with observations without ids/geolocation) that it’s not a “real” id will prevent most of them. They shouldn’t exist at all to be honest, wrong ids should go straight to comments/description with scripted note, that way they won’t be lost ever after new ids.

What is this? quote=“melodi_96, post:17, topic:20977”]
And I only just saw how you called Lepidoptera id useless, you know, you shouldn’t interact with any person like that

Ah, sorry, I’m blind! Will change it right now.

I was replying to the OP, who complained that his placeholder IDs were disappearing. I was attempting to explain that he shouldn’t be entering them as placeholders in the first place. It had nothing to do with the general problems with placeholders.

I suggest using the Notes field rather than the ID/name field. It won’t get overwritten and you can fill in IDs when you have time and the preferred interface to work through your data entry process. It also will preserve your original ID even if the community ID differs or taxonomy changes.

It won’t help identifiers that filter for taxa of interest.