'Needs ID' pile, and identifications

There are more than 30 million observations in ‘Needs ID’, far more than when I first joined:
How has this kept pace with the growth of iNaturalist in other areas?

Are identifiers more or less keeping up with the pile of ‘needs ID’? And would organized efforts be meaningful to recruit new identifiers and tackle specific groups? Best wishes, and looking forward to ideas and observations.


I’m keeping up with what I’ve committed to ID in my Identify filters, but there’s a lot more I could be IDing if I had more time. Part of the problem is that once I go through a group I feel I have to keep up with it.

See also this thread:


I think needs ID has grown exponentially. I wonder if some of the unknowns are that way out of a cultural sense of courtesy or caution borne out of unfamiliarity. If we can get pass critical mass and reach out to enough observers some of them will start to identify their own observations.

For instance, I often do unknowns in India and choose something in the order or family(if I’m fortunate) and then I notice the observer puts it at the genus or even species level—which makes me think the person was pretty sure what the identity was and knew more than I did, but wanted to see what others would choose without undue influence.


even though absolute numbers of Needs ID have gone up, i don’t think it’s really grown in proportion to the growth in total observations. here’s the breakdown of observation counts by iconic taxon right now:

iNaturalist Observation Counts by Iconic Taxa

Iconic Taxon Verifiable R Grade % RG of V Needs ID % NID of V All Diff All-V % V of All
Mammals :monkey: 1,784,608 1,515,350 84.9 269,258 15.1 2,224,143 439,535 80.2
Birds :eagle: 11,125,920 10,482,643 94.2 643,277 5.8 12,697,862 1,571,942 87.6
Reptiles :snake: 1,906,715 1,737,250 91.1 169,465 8.9 2,042,518 135,803 93.4
Amphibians :frog: 1,143,404 929,654 81.3 213,750 18.7 1,210,065 66,661 94.5
Ray-Finned Fish :tropical_fish: 766,896 599,008 78.1 167,888 21.9 857,475 90,579 89.4
Mollusks :snail: 1,188,010 695,070 58.5 492,940 41.5 1,228,981 40,971 96.7
Insects :beetle: 20,970,435 11,352,967 54.1 9,617,468 45.9 21,661,289 690,854 96.8
Arachnids :spider: 2,264,822 841,315 37.1 1,423,507 62.9 2,340,998 76,176 96.7
Other Animals :crab: 1,428,393 663,883 46.5 764,510 53.5 1,504,331 75,938 95.0
Plants :seedling: 33,906,239 19,137,316 56.4 14,768,923 43.6 39,217,114 5,310,875 86.5
Fungi :mushroom: 4,703,249 1,281,591 27.2 3,421,658 72.8 4,842,804 139,555 97.1
Chromista 104,622 51,229 49.0 53,393 51.0 108,660 4,038 96.3
Protozoa 114,869 28,953 25.2 85,916 74.8 117,808 2,939 97.5
Unknown 492,734 8,291 1.7 484,443 98.3 2,754,043 2,261,309 17.9
All :globe_with_meridians: 81,900,916 49,324,520 60.2 32,576,396 39.8 92,808,091 10,907,175 88.2

and here’s how it looked almost 2 years ago:


I identify Noctuidae in Canada. There are now 1568 pages of 35 observations per page. Up from less than 900 a year ago. Most of those just need confirmation, but, as always, there are always mis-identified specimens. I do my best, but it’s a slow process. And, since it’s a large group, there are many I am not familiar with. And requests. I spent over an hour on a request from Mexico this week. I don’t know Mexican moths, but try to help.


Another thing to note is that a lot of stuff in the “needs ID” pile is stuff like blurry pictures of treebark, moss taken from 10ft away, bugs which are so small as to be specks, pictures of leaves without flowers, etc which are impossible to ID. These will only grow in numbers unless some mechanism is made to remove these unidentifiable things.

I’m aware of the “can the community taxon be improved” mechanism, but it takes far too long to add to these obs so I never use it. IMO it needs a keyboard shortcut in the same way you can use “x” for marking something as cultivated. It’s possible that this was a deliberate design choice however since once an observation goes casual (if the community taxon is at family level or above), it’s probably never coming back.


I honestly don’t know if I’m keeping up or not, I know that I got the pages pretty low a few months ago, but it jumped back up, hopefully that’ll get knocked back down this winter.


It’s crazy that Needs ID has tripled in 2 years.

I spend a good amount of time looking at Penstemon observations. There are 84,000 total and 27,400 of those were added this year compared to 24,000 in 2020. The silver lining is that more observations are noticeably improving CV suggestions. Just keep chipping away :slightly_smiling_face:

If anyone reading this thread wants to help with plant IDs, I recommend Common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) as a good place to jump in. 5,600 Needs ID and an iconic species.


I’ve been going through “needs ID” for Texas reptiles and I have to say, there’s so many “needs ID” photos that I just don’t think are ever going to be ID-able. I’m a little uneasy about marking them as “cannot be improved” in case someone better at herps comes along and really can, but there’s just so many turtle noses peeking out of water/blurry shots of basking turtles that are too far away to ID/etc that it’s daunting.


Of course it would be helpful to recruit new identifiers, especially specialists of difficult taxon. Each experienced identifier can probably take a disproportionate chunk out of needs ID because each person doing that can identify many more than they are likely to contribute to the needs ID piles.

The tricky part is there are so few experts in some of these areas and they may not have so much time to identify things that others can’t do so easily, not to mention some things that just can’t be identified to research grade due to lack of information and too much time has passed to get that information. I’m specifically thinking about fungi, lichens, and slime molds where sometimes chemical tests or microscopy need to be performed or photos of certain angles are needed and they are too ephemeral to gather that information after too much time has passed. Those types of observations will stay at needs ID forever and the numbers just go up from there.


I think it was brought up in https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/amount-of-unknown-records-is-decreasing/8594 and similar topics, of course iNat doesn’t have enough iders, there will never be enough, but veryone using the forum imo ultimately should start iding at least something, checking common easy species, etc., because pure numbers matter too, by contributing ids you help both other users and yourself if you’re observer. And everyone should talk with experts out of website to try to hook theme up with idea they’re needed and that without iders there will be no use of iNat data, because now many thing are just ot known by cv, or known incorrectly, we can’t go past first hundreds/thousands of most observed species without help of others.


I think that it would be more helpful and far more feasible to recruit regular people who are already regulars on the site to do more of the easy-to-ID observations. We have several experts here on iNat already, but the biggest issue is that those experts’ time is limited. Right now, in order to get to the hard-to-ID stuff, they often have to wade through and ID lots of others which could readily be done by non-specialists.

e.g. I just went through a random page of 30 local plant observations and 50% are easily recognized species where one doesn’t need a specialist eye nor much additional research.

iNat should do something to incentivize submitters to help with identification. My guess is that a lot of people don’t feel that they have sufficient expertise to contribute as an identifier, so they leave it to the experts, but there’s a lot which can be done by by one person, even if it’s just a handful of common species or a particular region.


I would gently remind keeners like us that the main purpose of the site is to get folks engaging with the world around them. There will always be a proportion of unidentifiable observations - I’ve certainly posted a few of them myself - or those that remain at Casual forever. This is ok. Although for people who like to identify, it drives us nuts!
EDIT - also remember that many species ID’s need a specimen and a microscope. It’s hard to do that from a photo.


For what it’s worth, about a year ago I set myself a personal goal of making at least as many IDs as I made observations of my own. I got there, after a couple of months if I remember correctly. I was convinced to set this goal for myself because while making the observation in the first place is loads of fun, getting the feedback from identifiers taught me even more and deepened my connection to the natural world. So, I figured that if I want other people to feel connected as well, I had better contribute IDs, not just observations.

I mostly make IDs in Massachusetts, USA, where I live, or in New England, and even though there are many, many iNatters who make IDs by the thousands in this region (why, hello, tsn!), there were plenty of easy IDs left to make. I’m not a specialist in any taxon, but I can ID such common species as Eastern Gray Squirrel, Monarch, and Pickerelweed - and there were still thousands of these easy IDs left to make. If I can do that in a region which is intensively iNatted, I think it should be easy to make thousands of IDs in most places in North America, for example.

As for incentivizing identifiers, well, I’m just thankful iNat provides me with something fun to do when it’s rainy, snowy, or dark (or when I’m stuck on hold for those dreaded necessary phone calls).


The fungi pile is huge but I am unsure how this will change, as even with ignoring the difficulty in identifying and often microscope work required loads of observations don’t include much to go on. I think they are a popular thing to observe in season too as they are static and easy to spot on a walk. Advice on information required when people upload things as fungi could help a lot in reducing unidentifiable images. Either way this will probably always be one of the largest bins as many will be perpetually Needs ID due to the effort required to get to species level.


They need to be reviewed by hard experts and ided as far as possible, when casual system will change and family-level obs could be something more than casual, then marking them all as so would be a good thing. But now just nobody even checks them or leaves feedback, I photograph as much as I can, but 95% recieves nothing, even broad id, it’s impossible to look up how to id e.g. a certain genus, when you have no idea even which family it is, so it’s a circle of “bad” observations.


That’s why I think advice on submission would be a good idea. It seems like a huge proportion of submissions are so poor you can barely suggest things beyond the highest taxa and providing advice would be copy and pasting the same information on what you need to ID fungi to every observation.


Just out of curiosity, how are there 8,291 RG observations listed as Unknown?


From the more recent posted data, 3/4 are RG bacteria


Ah, okay, I didn’t realize that any observations could reach RG at higher taxonomic levels. (I thought that was limited to genus.)