New to iNaturalist and trying to help with identifications

Hello, my name is Ravi and I have only been using iNaturalist for a couple of weeks now and have loved it. I’m also very new to learning about different wildlife. In the last couple of weeks, I have made lots of observations and it has helped me to start learning different plants/fungi/wildlife and I know I still have a ways to go.

I enjoy trying to help with identifications and everything I read told me to only suggest identifications that I am comfortable and also not to click the first thing that comes up on the suggestions. The last couple of days I tried to help identify a couple local photos with the little knowledge that I have, and I was told it was disturbing because I put a more generic identification.

The person who posted the picture suggested that it was “Box Elder”. Since I couldn’t tell, I suggested it’s a Dicot, because when I went to visually similar plants, it looked like quite a few different types of plants (White Ash, American Hornbeam, Kentucky Yellowwood, just to name a few.) To an expert, maybe this sounds like ridiculous comparisons, but being new I can’t tell. On a cattail picture, it looked visually similar to all the cattails suggested, so I just put the genus. I also want to point out that I did not disagree with their ID, I just added mine to add to their initial suggestion and it was only two of us identifying the picture at the time.

My question is if i’m doing something wrong and/or what advice people would give me on both continuing my learning and/or if I should just stop trying to help with identifications.


welcome to the forum (and to iNat broadly!)

you aren’t explicitly doing anything wrong or breaking any of iNat’s guidelines etc. If you can only confidently ID to X level, and you’re not hard disagreeing with them, that’s fine. The ‘issue’ here, and presumably why users are taking offence, is that your coarser IDs are generating notifications for them, which some people get annoyed about (especially when the action generating the notification is perceived to not be useful).
[as an aside, many people do not understand that you can add a coarse ID without explicitly disagreeing, so that can often cause conflict when they perceive you as saying their ID is wrong)

definitely don’t stop trying to help, it’s great to see that you want to help add IDs

my advice would be to perhaps hold off for now on some of these very coarse, non-disagreeing IDs on observations that already have a fine-level ID. Instead, a good way to practice and build your skills could be to go through and confirm or correct IDs of an easy-to-recognise species in your area that you’re already familiar with. From there, you can start to build your way up and learn to differentiate species within a taxon that interests you. So perhaps you pick a genus, I would then read some keys for that taxon, learn the important characters used to differentiate species, and look at lots of pics on iNat of those species. You might then feel comfortable enough to start adding IDs for those too.

Don’t let people make you feel bad for making mistakes, not knowing a species, etc. Everyone has to start somewhere

Also, keep asking questions! This is the best way to learn from others and build your knowledge.


Thanks for your interest in participating! I absolutely second what thebeachcomber said above:

If you’re currently more comfortable adding broader/more general ID’s, a great way to assist would be to start by identifying unknowns (either in general or in your regions of interest). This is an often vital step in getting these observations in front of experts, many of whom filter by the groups they’re most familiar with such as “plants”. As an added bonus, you’ll get even more chances to learn by seeing the more specific IDs those observations end up receiving!


Using the “rank” filters can be helpful to narrow down your identify search to only “coarsely” identified observations, e.g. here are ~12,000 observations near you that are only identified to Kingdom so far:

And here are ~4000 that don’t have any ID at all yet:


Thank you for the great advice @thebeachcomber, @jmillsand, and @bouteloua !


If I do that, I write in the comments box “this is not a disagreement with finer IDs.” That usually but not always prevents nasty comments (although you might still get a question along the lines of “why do it then?”)


Great idea! I guess everyone is different and sometimes communication goes a long way and other times I just have to figure out if it is worth the discussion.


Another option
Kingdom Disagreement in Georgia

Only add IDs where you are confident, but there will definitely be some you can help.
And follow your notifications so you can respond when needed.

Also this thread


Thank you @dianastuder !


If you ID enough, it is virtually inevitable you will annoy a few people occasionally. Don’t let it get you down. Even the most absolutely helpful IDing behavior can theoretically annoy someone, because some people just don’t understand how the site works; some app users don’t even really understand that it is a site. If they are being excessively rude, you can flag the comment or tag some more experienced users to come to your defense. Otherwise usually just leave a polite comment and move on.

Hope you find a niche you enjoy doing! The vast majority of interactions are not like that!


Example: you have your ID tab set to random, and it shows you a mushroom photographed only from the top. You helpfully add comments that the gills and stem base are needed for ID. The observer responds as if you should have seen all their other mushroom observations that were photographed from various angles, and guessed from this that they had a reason for not doing so in this case, and that you really should have not said anything. When you remind them of the site policy that says “assume that people mean well,” they block you.


For me, adding high-level mushroom IDs has been the main (only?) source of more or less overt hostility I’ve gotten. I think it is because they have a time-sensitive issue in that they want someone to tell them if it is edible.

Little do they know, there is hardly anything that makes me want to help someone less than asking for an ID to help determine whether something is edible. I want zero personal responsibility for some random internet user’s safety.


Looks like you already got a lot of good advice - but I just want to say that there’s a tremendous need for people to identify things and I’m so glad you are doing it. You will encounter some negativity no matter what- try not to escalate it. It takes a certain amount of creativity to stay neutral sometimes, or sometimes people will interpret negativity when none is intended. For instance, I add “I hope someone else can help.” when I disagree with an ID and put on a more general ID, because I find it softens the harshness of “I disagree and this is why!” and also perhaps softens the disappointment of going from a species ID to “Dicots”.
But we are glad to have you with us! I hope you stick with it… it really is a great way to become incredibly familiar with a species by having all sorts of examples in various states.


Thank you @wildskyflower @aphili8 and @jasonhernandez74 for the encouragement and advice!

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Welcome, @zzravizz!

You’ve gotten really good advice already, and I can’t think of more to offer. I will say that @dianastuder, @aphili8 (and others) are right; there’s a need for people who are willing to ID for others. I read here on the forum that only 10% or so of iNat members also submit IDs on any regular basis. (I forget which thread, but the subject has probably come up more than once.)

I guarantee that by using the ID tools, you’ll learn more than you think. More than once, I’ve been looking through the ‘needs ID’ list for species with which I’m comfortable, and an observation will catch my eye and trigger “hey, I know that thing”, even if I haven’t seen one of the whatever-it-is myself. I always double-check my hunch, of course, but it’s amazing just how much you can pick up without realizing it.


Definitely nothing wrong with adding broad-level IDs, in fact, that’s almost all I do. I would say that in the specific case you mentioned, where there’s already a fine ID and no disagreements, adding a broad ID doesn’t really add any information. It’s still totally within the rules and if it’s helping you learn I say go for it, but I think there are probably workflows that are both more helpful for users and other IDers, and also, more fun for you!

I would suggest looking into how to generate search URLs such as the ones suggested by dianastuder and bouteloua. iNat’s UI for the identify tab doesn’t cover half of what you can specify. Very useful IMO is the “exact_taxon_id” parameter which lets you search for a taxon without any descendants. I use this to sort insects to order, which is pretty friendly for the beginner IDer (minus. caddisflies.) If you’re interested in plants I’m sure there’s groups you could do this for as well.

Here’s the wiki post listing search parameters you can use. It’s a little overwhelming, but if you’re ever thinking, “man, I wish I could exclude/include xyz in this search…” you probably can!

As others have said, thank you for helping out. There’s a huge amount of needs-id posts out there and nowhere near enough identifiers to get to them all.


Yes. Two bits from me - I was able to ID to species something I had never seen or heard of before (thanks for the learning curve iNat <3) And since I have been pegging away here for 4 years, I can see what I have learned compared to my old ID which bubbles up (I used to fall for the Just Dump it in Plants. No more!)

I would say my first year was all about learning to iNat, with grateful help from this Forum. And I continue to learn, both about biodiversity and how to iNat. There are layers of closed till you open them doors across iNat. Not locked, just, come, this way …

I chew thru Unknowns, and now Pre-Mavericks (for Georgia). When I woke up to the horror of how much MORE lurks in Needs ID, I thought about how to use my time and knowledge most efficiently. So - look at the CID (Community ID) Click the What’s This? Scroll past the wall of dead text - and see where the consensus lies. Add your ID, check again - did it help? No - delete it (to avoid annoying notifications and those snarky responses).

You can, consider an obs - can’t help - Mark as Reviewed (that is for your own convenience) - Next. You can also fave or follow, where you can’t help, but would like to know What IS that?!

ID addicts (over 1K comments ;~) at IdentiFriday

Oh and any residue from your local City Nature Challenge?


I only use broader lever IDs when I disagree, or when someone tags me for help but I don’t know a more specific ID. I leave a note in those cases explaining this is the highest level I am comfortable with for now, and maybe explaining that geography or that Genus is not an area of expertise. I look at tens of thousands without leaving anything if I feel they are correct and they are already at research grade as a lower level ID doesn’t help anyone.
Where the lowest level IDs are very helpful was explained above, when newbies leave stuff without even basic info. Improving even to Kingdom, class, etc is very helpful on those.

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Some examples of legitimate uses to use broader-level IDs:
1.) To move the community taxa down to that level but not all the way down to the display taxa (there are a number of reasons you might want to do this; for example if there is a vote for ‘as good as it can be’, it can move it to RG if the community taxa is below family or casual if it is higher)
2.) When you think the observer is probably wrong but you aren’t totally sure.
3.) When there is a higher-level dispute in the comments and you want to vote on that dispute but not the species
4.) When you think there might be a higher-level dispute in the future, and want to vote on it preemptively
5.) As a way to both follow the observation and mark it as reviewed at the same time.
6.) If someone tagged you and thats the best you have
7.) If the observer has opted out of community taxon
8.) Because its the best you can do and you felt like it


Thanks for the advice @GothHobbit and that’s a great idea @alloyant ! Filtering data can make a huge difference in how I want to use my strengths to help identify!

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