Needed: more people to help ID moths and other insects

We appear to have a wonderful abundance to members to ID birds and wildflowers (from what I see). But when it comes to members identifying some insects, and moths, we seem to be low in numbers. Not at all a complaint. Just wishing more would join to fill out the ranks.


here’s a great resource to help people explore the common noctuids of North America

Wiki - Common North American Noctuid Moth Identification



“When you are shown work to do, it is first and foremost your responsibility to do it” - quoted by Pesach Stadlin

None of us have infinite time, but this guide might be a starting point for more people who wish to add IDs on this group:


Is there any existing space/wiki for gathering identification resources?
I have a lot for UK arthropods - be happy to share, and be good to hear of other European resources…


This brings up the question I have had rolling around in my head for a while… I am new to moths and love photographing them and identifying my observations with my field guide. What is that threshhold where it becomes helpful for me to make identifications for observations in my area with my field guide even though I am not an expert? I am really reluctant to make that leap out of fear of making mistakes, but I want to help.


I think you can point people in a right directions, even if you are not sure, identifying to the family helps the new people immensely.


OK, I can certainly help with that. I am in Louisiana which is not a very high population state, so 90% of the moths in need of identification are observed by a few people who regularly run moth sheets and have taken the time to ID the moths. Should I try to validate their IDs and “agree,” or is that best left to an expert since it would be taking it to research level at that point?


if you can’t make an identification, don’t make an identification, especially if it’s at species-level. this site has enough bad data.


My rule of thumbs is, that I need to be able to explain why this is the family or species and need to be abIe to defend that position if questioned.


Without knowing enough about moths to actually identify them, I’ve recently been going through the coarse “Lepidoptera” level and annotating as adult vs larva (vs sometimes pupa). So if others have better (even just to family) expertise on caterpillars vs adults, they could id more quickly by using Life Stage filter.


I’m working in SE Asia and we have a big issue of having tons of butterfly and moth observations (as well as other insects of all types), the majority of which never get an ID other than what we make a stab at.

One of the issues is that most of the users of iNat tend to be in places like North America, Europe, and Australia/New Zealand, therefore those areas get a lot more attention.


Let me start by saying I love iNaturalist. However, except for a few well-known groups, such as butterflies (in many areas), insect identification beyond genus level, or even family level, can be very difficult. Some groups are incredibly diverse, and telling even subfamilies apart is a challenge with photographs–and they need to be good photographs. In North America, where I have experience, I am thinking of such groups as ground beetles and parasitic wasps. Doing any ID beyond family level often requires a very sharp macro photograph or even work with a dissecting microscope on a specimen. Often one must consult keys in the primary literature or special guides–simple visual comparison simply will not work. In some groups there are confusing mimicry complexes where quite different genera have similar markings–one must look very carefully at structures visible only on a detailed photo or with a specimen in hand. I am thinking of some of the Mutillidae (velvet ants), especially. I have come to grief just looking at color patterns, not realizing that different genera have nearly identical patterns. Photomorphus, for instance:
looks almost identical to Timulla:
One has to look at the shape of the eyes to differentiate them, and those eyes are teeny-tiny!
Here’s an example of a parasitic wasp I photographed yesterday and spent much of today trying to identify–finally got a pretty good ruling on the genus from a kind expert on BugGuide:
That color pattern is so distinctive, but is shared by at least two separate genera of Braconid wasps in different subfamilies: Dorycetes and Atanycolus. They can be told apart, apparently, by a difference in the form of one antennal segment. I had one photo out of a series where this was just visible–normally one needs a microscope. There is no chance of determining this sort of thing from a casual snapshot with a normal cell phone camera. (Note. I love my cell phone camera, but it is not good for detailed macro work.) One needs to do careful work to document the diagnostic characters.
So I guess I’m making a plea for those interested in insect identification to work to get detailed photos of relevant characters. This will usually require macro equipment of some sort and careful attention to lighting. You are going to have to do some research, often in advance, to understand what characters to photograph. I think then iNaturalist will be able to improve the state of its art on insects.


insect identification beyond genus level, or even family level, can be very difficult

Don’t even get me started on longhorn beetles.


As an aside, I’ve periodically reached out to the entomology group on Facebook and they’ve often been very helpful in identifying species.

They don’t seem all the open to looking through iNat and making identifications, but posting to their group on FB and asking for an ID tends to lead to at least a genus level ID, which I can then apply to my iNat observation.


I’d suggest gathering resources together and posting them in a journal post on iNat, so you can easily direct people to them. There might be something more specifically like that in the future.


Butterflies, birds, and plants are just far more popular and there are many field guides and websites to help ID them. I post a lot of spiders and insects that may never get species identification. That could be due to species that cannot be determined by photo or actually undocumented species. Sometimes years later an expert runs across some of my stuff they can identify. And as more gets added to the website, the artificial intelligence gets smarter. I post so many spiders from my area, now that iNat knows they are here, I can see a significant improvement in the suggested species.


Butterflies, birds, and plants are just far more popular

Not only more popular, but better documented from a field observation perspective as a result of that popularity. There are cryptic complexes of bird species that also seemed indistinguishable in the field when first described, yet over years or decades birders managed observe closely enough to “develop field marks” - that is, find visual (or audio) differences that hadn’t been noticed (or analyzed systematically enough to be described) by the scientists, who had described the species based on features that were obvious in the hand, under dissection, or via genomic analysis. I wonder if the same could exist for some of these insects - features visible even in cell phone photos that we just don’t realize are diagnostic yet, because relatively little attention and energy (compared to birds or butterflies) has been devoted to trying to identify them visually. It’s quite possibly that there still aren’t. By I think it’s an interesting question.


I have recentIy seen that some diagnostic marks were observed and described in some Polish coleoptera around 2014, but I couId not remember which species or family was this. Such things couId happen, aIthough I wouId assume it is either rare, or this happens for some species that are not observed frequentIy.


There are actually more plants in identify than insects currently (7 million plants vs 4 million insects). Of course not all these plants will be wildflowers.


I’m very willing to help, although I’m a novice. I’m pretty good at recognizing families and am starting to get an “eye” for determining what the key features are. I think that the site is pretty good with getting moths in my region to genus. I’m pretty impressed anyway.
I use the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America and that is incredibly helpful. I follow that with Bugguide when I get some certainty with Genus or Tribe.