"My" Observations?

A question I’ve been mulling over, that seems like there are conflicting opinions over: what level of interaction do I personally need to have with an organism to warrant uploading it as an observation? Here are a few of my own examples to illustrate what I mean, in order from “most interaction” to “least interaction”:

Example A: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10890391
I was there and observed this beetle, but the photo was taken by my wife, so it’s not “my” photo, but I have permission to use it and I did make the observation.

Example B: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/154918302
I was there when this moth was collected, but a friend is the one who actually collected it off of his moth sheet, and handed me the specimen a few minutes later because he didn’t need it. So I technically never “observed” it alive, but come on… it was alive just moments earlier.

Example C: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/160535161
My sister sent me this picture from her bathroom and asked me to post it on iNat to find out what it was. So I never actually saw the organism personally, but the data is correct for the observation.

Example D: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/178317940
I wasn’t even alive when this observation occurred, but I have the specimen in my collection, with accurate data attached. I posted it as an observation because it’s an interesting record of a now-extirpated species in the region. But by no reasonable understanding of the term did I personally “observe” it in nature.

In all 4 cases, the observations are somewhere along the spectrum from “I saw it and photographed it alive myself” (clearly okay) to “I’m just posting other people’s stuff that I have no business uploading” (presumably not okay).

My question is where is the “official” line between what is and isn’t appropriate to upload on one’s personal iNaturalist account? I know some users are really into the “who’s the top observer of [taxon] in [place]” game, and I could see them getting annoyed that someone is “padding their numbers” by uploading stuff that wouldn’t meet the official ABA standards for what makes something a “countable” lifer, but I don’t really play that game. I figure it’s about the organisms, it’s not about me; as long as I either own the specimen or have permission to post the picture, why not upload it to get the record out there. But I’m curious whether others agree or disagree with this philosophy, and whether there’s any official iNat guideline on this question.



I would only upload A & B as “my” observations


Regardless of where the “official” line is, there are going to be people who interpret it variously. I have a friend who spends huge amounts of energy on eBird and steadfastly refuses to get an iNat account, although he’s a good general naturalist and a great photographer. Occasionally he makes a really interesting non-bird observation and sends me the photo. I have posted half a dozen of these, always stating that he took the photo. I don’t think I would do this if he sent me a photo from some distant location I wasn’t familiar with, though.


I would consider A + B "my observations. The other two really aren’t, but guidelines say that they are ok in small/infrequent quantities. I would not personally upload example D, as it seems like just an example of a historical specimen - it’s not really any different than taking a pic of a specimen at a museum that I have little relation to and uploading the info on the tag. If the original observer isn’t known, then there’s no one to go back to, and no one to answer questions about it, this breaks some of the point of iNat in my opinion. Probably not a major issue if very infrequent, but I personally wouldn’t do it.

On a related note, iNat is definitely not supposed to be used as an alternative venue for historical collections/specimens management. For physical specimens, it would be better to accession these in a collection where their value can be maximized. Additonally, older records (I forget the exact cutoff - 1920?) are automatically flagged as “No Recent Evidence of Organism” because they are prior to when any living observer could almost certainly have viewed them, and iNat really isn’t for records that don’t represent encounters between the observer and an organism.


That makes sense. I first ran into this issue when I started uploading my moth observations earlier this year. I have a physical collection, and about 95% of the specimens in it I personally collected, so they’re unambiguously my own observations, but then I found this slippery slope from:

“I caught it alive myself” to “I found it in one of my traps recently deceased” to “someone else handed it to me from their trap when I was with them” to “someone handed it to me from their trap from the night before that was set a hundred yards away from my location” to “someone gave me the specimen from a couple nights before from a few miles away” to “someone else caught this a year ago at a place I’ve never even been” to “this specimen is older than me and I have no idea who caught it”

The ones along this spectrum are a relatively small number compared to the ones I unambiguously collected myself, so rather than lose sleep over where to draw the line I just uploaded everything and figured I’d just ask for forgiveness if someone has a major issue with it. But I’m glad to hear some other takes on the question. I’d never just walk into a museum and start uploading historical specimens to iNat, but as you say, a few random historical specimens that have made their way into my own collection over the years really aren’t any different as far as my connection to the original observation goes.


I’ve uploaded B and C but I always give credit with C. It also helps that most of the people who send me C are on iPhone which means I can get more exact locality than “idk somewhere in X neighborhood the other day”.

D, I would have to think about. On first pass I don’t think it’s a huge issue but I’m not sure enough to have a strong opinion


I agree, it’s the organisms that count, as long as the permissions and data are in order, go for it.


When mothing you kill everything you catch?

With these examples laid out, I would say that I would consider uploading these:

as Dead and not Wild, since you definitely did not have a chance to see them alive, and when you did interact with them they were not Wild

I would only upload this situation

as dead and at present day as it cannot be attributed to a collector even in the Notes. If no one knows the collector, I would not trust any other historical details associated with the specimen enough to post. If I were a data user, I wouldn’t want to use that info in my dataset unless I was discussing a record so rare that it was addressing the point individually in my research and specifically discussing/taking that uncertainty into account.

I would also disagree with this statement:

iNaturalist is specifically about the observer’s experience. The documentation says:
“Observations are the basic units of iNaturalist. An observation records an encounter with an individual organism at a particular time and location.”
So the observer and their interaction with the organism are a critical aspect of what an observation and what iNaturalist is trying to promote. If the goal is just to get data on historical specimens to be available, there are other routes (accessioning in a collection, etc) that would be better.


here’s a question (also pertinent to your latter post): I uploaded an observation of a lichen I found and got a mycologist to make a determination on, but which was collected over a decade before my birth (outing myself as a '90s kid here I suppose). it is on a plant specimen that I wouldn’t dream of uploading to iNat myself due to the existing discouragement of dumping old museum collections onto site servers; however, the lichen was never noticed before, no one particularly wants to pry it from the plant sheet to put it in the fungorum, and there isn’t really a capability to start implementing the so-called “extended specimen” approach at the herbarium. I’m probably not going to upload any more of these (anytime soon anyway), but had I not already uploaded it, would it (have) be(en) strongly discouraged that I (have) do(ne) so?


No, of course not. But I have no photographic documentation of any of the millions of moths I’ve observed over the years, except for the few thousand I’ve made into specimens, so those are what I’m able to upload. I suppose I could make casual observations for each of the species on my various written lists for each location I’ve made one for, but what’s the point. On a typical night there are thousands of moths of hundreds of species on the sheets, I might collect 5-10 individuals, and the rest go free. If it’s a site I’m interested in, I might make a list on-site of what I saw in my notebook. I’m not a photographer though, so on a picture-based platform like iNat, the only ones that “count” for anything now are those 5-10 specimens I can go back and take a picture of today.

And for some groups of moths, I’d never attempt to put an identification on them without a specimen to dissect anyway. There are plenty of species for which the options are:
A. Collect, kill, dissect, and put a name one it.
B. Photograph and release and never get it past genus.
So for those, really the only observations at the species level should be for individuals made into specimens.


There’s a third option: Photograph the moth. Post the photos and tentatively ID it (maybe just to genus). ALSO collect it, dissect it, and put a name on it.

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That is such a strange concept for me to get my head around, very anthropocentric. Of course I have a role as I am the one that saw, recorded and posted the organism, if I consider myself at all, it would be as a sort of “spokesman” for that organism, without any particular importance beyond my role as “interface”. Not sure why, but “…the observer and their interaction with the organism are a critical aspect of what […] iNaturalist is trying to promote” somehow makes me a bit sad.


Are there specific rules around camera trap projects?
I have followed tracks, scat, prey items, and placed cameras to ‘observe’ animals - some of which I’ve never seen with my own eyes. But the camera is timestamped, and the location accurate.

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But. If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it …
We are the eyes and ears. The recorder. Less important than the nature we observe, but vital to observing.

Live mothing here. Look - pretty - with only 4 obs on iNat and he has made mine the taxon photo.


In your example C, you can always put an explanatory note or comment on the observation. If you think an observation is valuable and you have contact with the observer, I would say it is worth posting, but also to make explicit that it’s not your image, to keep honest.

To use the observation linked below as an example, I’d never heard of an interaction between owls and porcupines, but on my street an owl was seemingly killed by a porcupine. I used the person’s picture with their permission, and made it clear it wasn’t my image on the observation. If I do this I usually try to go to the location and see for myself, but in this case I didn’t manage.



Example C: I have refused to upload pictures that friends sent me, because I don’t want to mess up my life-list with something I have never seen. I check the CV suggestion but then don’t upload it and tell them if they are really interested, they should get their own iNat account.


I use iNaturalist to keep track of the species I’ve seen, so I would only upload A and B. Personally, I have a separate iNat account to upload observations from friends and family- that way they don’t ‘pollute’ my life-list (If this isn’t allowed, someone please let me know)

(You are allowed one single account and ‘they’ should have their own)


Small point of clarity.

“This does not include multiple accounts set up for multiple roles, e.g. a personal account and a professional account.” -Community Guidelines