'Needs ID' pile, and identifications

That may be true for certain wildlife groups like plants maybe, but for some like bees they often get looked at eventually.


Agreed. Bees, flies, and gallformer IDs can trickle in for me quite awhile after upload. And I’ve gotten IDs on observations that were a year or more old.

I highly appreciate all ID suggestions but I receive a lot of personal value in various ways from my observations even if I get no ID suggestions.

I get fairly good responses on my obs, though, due to a lot of quality identifiers in my geographic location. So maybe that’s easier for me to say.


That is a big reason why North American birds tend to get ID’d so quickly, most people are at least moderately familiar with them, and as an added bonus, in my experience there tends to be more dialog on difficult bird observations so it’s a great way to learn more about them.


For the taxa I primarily identify (spiders of North America) there are definitely not enough identifiers, and IMO not enough people using the “It’s as good as it can get” DQA flag to kick “unidentifiable” observations out of needs-ID. If you work with cryptic/difficult to photograph animals (which you do @edanko) I suggest using this wherever seems appropriate, and encourage other IDers to do so as well. Especially when it comes to small arthropods, iNat inevitably ends up with many tens of thousands of photos that will never be identifiable beyond genus or family or even a higher level. Using that DQA flag is a bit clunky and won’t solve these problems completely, but it will help reduce the size of the large (and growing) needs-ID piles for the limited number of people we have to review them. BugGuide has a “Frass” bucket for this purpose and I understand iNat’s reasoning behind not doing that, but these taxa now have 100,000s of basically-unidentifiable photos and it makes these piles very tedious to sort through, which doesn’t really help encourage more people to join in. iNat is growing exponentially (which is awesome) but it seems to be mostly the same small handful of people trying to manage IDing all these new observations. I wrote a rather wordy blog/journal post about these various frustrations awhile back - it is written about spiders but is also applicable to other small things (esp. arthropods) that are difficult for most people to photograph well. I put it on iNat journal because a lot of people don’t regularly visit the forum.


Thanks to all the IDers of these difficult taxa who spend so many hours sorting through these large piles <3


How liberating! I’ve just started checking the box for as “good as can be” on my own spider observations that are not detailed enough for species or even genus.

Next I’m going to start using that feature for many larva and pupa observations for which no adult observation is possible. For most of them genus is great.


Another suggestion for the IDers: Instead of IDing by Date Added / Descending (the default) try picking a past year and setting the sort to random. You will often find a lot of interesting stuff that’s been missed this way. I also will periodically limit the search to high/low ranks, such as only things between Order and Family. This helps me skip over the stuff that’s been already been identified to genus but can’t go further (for example) and find things that just haven’t been reviewed. And many people really appreciate getting an ID on an observation that’s been sitting for a long time - me included.



Well I finally reviewed all of the Needs ID Bombus impatiens. Next up Bombus bimaculatus.

PSA Please no further uploads of Bombus impatiens for the foreseeable future, thank you.


I guess they don’t call it common for nothin’


The big problem there is people arguing whether it is a moss, a liverwort, or a vascular plant. Good luck on ever getting those beyond kingdom.

From what I have seen, there really needs to be more published on the Cape Floristic Province. I have been working on observations stuck at Family Asteraceae, and as long as I set the sort to random, I can do at least some on each page. But when I set it to ascending, trying to take care of the oldest ones first, it is just lots and lots of South African ones, with several users all agreeing to Family Asteraceae but nobody venturing any further. With cryptic notes like:

Confidence: As sure as can be; Reputation Score = 0.08013 EE; Is_Likely = False

Um, how can you be as sure as can be, if Is_Likely=False?

Such a distinct floristic region as the Cape, in Africa’s most developed country, you’d think there would be a decent field guide, one that could at least get people to genus if not species. The Peterson System would come in handy there.

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Those observations were imported from a different platform South Africa used to use. iNaturalist absorbed all their photos when they switched. I am not really sure what the notes mean other that I’m pretty sure the “reputation score” had something to do with giving IDs of verified experts more weight.


We have many decent field guides. The more recent obs (the ones that began their life on iNat not transferred from iSpot) should be moving briskly along from Asteraceae.

Your Asteraceae are somewhere in the 53 K I am working back thru


Personally I am hesitant to ID due to lack of formal education.
Some fears of giving false positives or relying too heavily on visuals to ID (Insects)

If I do ID, it’s usually exclusive to the Hawaiian Island for ID work or a few species I know especially well.

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It’s good to try to keep learning and ID more. Don’t think about species ID at first. Try order, family, tribe, genus, subgenus. Go through each in order until the IDs are mostly correct, then go to the next one. Some errors are okay if they’re corrected (check all disagreeing-ID notifications), learned from, and ideally not at the species or subspecies rank (which are more important than other ranks). Also challenge yourself to read and use identification keys in literature, etc. IDing is also easier if you first narrow down to which species options occur in the location. After this process you may eventually be able to ID some species, or at least genera or subgenera better than before. You can also indicate in comments a tentative ID, or add a comment under a regular ID to qualify it.


Yes, only recently learned the term “keys” for ID. As in a few days ago recently haha.

At first I was going strictly visual, with reasonable deduction from location. The Taxon trees are only just starting to be touched now. Been reading basic insect anatomy and finished reading yesterday about halteres in flies. Now I understand the system better, learned to only go as far in as I am confident, not to blindly guess species unless it’s extremely obvious.

Unsure the most efficient way to find keys? Tend to only find a few articles, and if there is major interest, an attempt to sex the animal.

Mostly hesitant to not tick off the community. I guess trying again wouldn’t hurt, I post at bare minimum one observation a day, should try to “give back”.


Try a search engine for academic papers like google scholar. Search the taxon name and “identification,” or “revision,” or search the taxon and “fauna of” “species of” “checklist of” (the location). You can also check bugguide net, discover life org, etc.


Ahh yes this is roughly what I’ve been doing, think just need time to grow some confidence. Can at least help with the backlog on a particular species of jumping spider. Have 3 of the species as pets and know them off by heart by now. Can try that.


Thank you all so much for your feedback since this thread opened! I’ve started some zoom ID/training events based on some of the ideas and they’ve attracted a few people. Do you think this kind of thing would be of interest for other groups of organisms as well, and would you recommend advertising in any particular way?


yeah I’m trying to be…I guess I’d say fairly conservative in using it but there are absolutely a lot of photos you can’t ID to species from. Heck, I’ve got a few of them up myself, and don’t plan to remove them (useful for notes for me). But I don’t really consider it harassment to check the box that says it can’t be improved either.


It’s really interesting to read all the strategies that people take for identifying iNat observations and whittling away at the Needs ID pile. I do think there’s a lot that can be accomplished by people working to ID all the new stuff (or maybe old stuff) within their local area, or all the plants, moths, etc. within that area.

There’s also some value in people trawling through the unknown observations and moving them towards the right Kingdom or Phylum, although that’s an area where I’d like iNat to be automatically nudging new users to add their own IDs:

You recently added 14 observations that have no suggested IDs. If you add a high-level ID like “Flowering Plants” or “Birds” your observations have a much better chance of being seen by knowledgeable identifiers. Click here for a tutorial.

I’ve tried to use both the above approaches, but the one that seems to be most effective and also most rewarding for me is as follows.

  1. Start by learning the basic ID characters for some particular small group of related taxa, e.g. a genus with 2–5 species, or just part of a larger genus. Let’s call it a “clade”. Understand the range/distribution of each and how they’re distinguished. Get access to a few useful resources (keys, photographic guides, papers in which the species were described or revised).

  2. Use Identify to search for observations at the genus level for a small portion of the range. Work through the observations, say county by county. For each county, check on which taxa are known to occur there and in adjoining counties. With that info, you can fairly quickly confirm, refine or revise IDs for a bunch of existing observations because the range of possibilities is quite limited. You know what specific characters to look for to distinguish the 3 possible species in this county, for example. Generally, I include all data quality grades (Needs ID, RG and Casual) in my searches because I want to know that I’ve checked every observation of the taxon and make sure I’m aware if my IDs are diverging from those of other experienced people.

Pro tip: If I’m going to exclude reviewed observations in my search, then I’ll often start with the last page of results and work backward. That way, you know that when you’re done with page 13, you can bring up page 12 and see a full page of 30 new observations without skipping any. Working the other way, if you ID 10 of 30 observations on page 1, then when you move to page 2 you’re ignoring 10 unreviewed observations that have slipped past you onto the “new” page 1.

  1. Once I’ve built up knowledge and confidence with observations already ID’ed to genus level, I’ll search across all or part of the clade’s range working up one taxon level at a time. So I might set Identify to show me all observations in the parent family, but with the lowest rank set to “Family”. That way I can see which of these family-level observations I can confidently move down to genus or species level. If I think there’s a good chance that observations might have been IDed in a sister genus, I might search across the whole family with the lowest rank set to genus. That’s going to pull in a whole lot more irrelevant observations, but might find me a few more that need fixing.

Pro tip: Once I’m at the point where I’m working on finding occasional “known” taxa within a big bucket of stuff I mostly don’t know, I add the setting &per_page=80 to the Identify URL. I find it more efficient to visually scan through 15 pages of 80 observations than through 40 pages of 30 each.

  1. From there, I’ll keep my search set to the same location range, but back up the taxon rank one level at a time, adjusting the lower bound as I go. As I mostly work with monocot plants, it doesn’t take long before I get to the point that I’m trawling through all Liliopsida, all Angiospermae, all Tracheophyta and all Plantae within the distribution of my target taxa. Mostly, I try to resist the distraction of ID’ing stuff I encounter outside the target taxa, as the work required to check the right references etc. isn’t efficient if these are different references each time. But if you can quickly kick something into Cactaceae or Rodentia, why not?

  2. Next up is “Unknown” for the same geographic area. This is one I definitely try to process from oldest to newest, as a fair portion of “Unknown” and missing photo observations are still being tweaked by the observer.

  3. If I’m feeling really thorough, I’ll adjust the search URL from &taxon_id=6345789 to &ident_taxon_id=6345789&without_taxon_id=6345789. That means that instead of searching for observations that have a particular community ID already, I’m now searching for observations that have a certain identification but don’t have a matching community ID. For example I’ll get a list of everything that someone thinks is a cactus and someone else doesn’t. At this point, the knowledge I have gained should make it pretty easy to add relevant IDs for the real cacti and push a few of the lookalikes in more appropriate directions.

  4. Last stop will likely be to check out the “Similar Species” that iNat suggests on each taxon page within my self-assigned clade. If iNat reports that lots of people confuse these organisms with Agapanthus and Alliums then I can review those taxa using &per_page=80 to find any obvious mis-IDs.

At this point (or earlier if I lose patience), I’ve IDed the clade as fully as I can and I’ll make myself a note to come back and check for newly added observations in the future. This is the point where I’m ready to broaden my clade of interest, such as to a sister genus, and that takes me back to step 1.

I know my approach allows me to get from zero knowledge to competent identifier in a fairly reliable way, but is it something that would work for other potential identifiers, or is it just too specific to me?


I do it that way too!