Observation fields - Which ones to add / How to search available fields


I have been on inatural for a little bit now and have never entered anything into the observational fields as when I went to it never gave me any options. Today I found an observation with some of the fields filled in (ex. # of birds) and applied it so some of my observations.

Long story cut short it got me to wonder if there is a location which has all the observation fields listed or if are there some observation fields which should be used compared to others. Is it even worth trying to fill out observation fields?


I am so glad you brought this up. I recently have been trying to add “host plant” to my insects however that is the only observational field I am offered.

(I think perhaps it appeared when I once began to type it in, having seen it added by someone else on one of my observations?)

Anyway, last night I wondered this same exact thing so am very thankful for your proactivity.


A list of observation fields can be found and searched here. Observation fields are kind of a mess, with many duplicates.


So far, I have been looking at some other users’ observation fields and once I enter them into mine, it seems like it remembers I added it in the past and starts showing up as options for my other observations whether they are applicable or not (ex. insect on flower part on a bird research-grade observation)

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@swampster thank you for the list of observation fields do you know if there is a way to search them (ex. applicable to birds, general, applicable to insects, est.)

I believe you can only search them by key words in the field name itself.

When selecting an observation field with many similar options, I prioritize them in the following ways:

  1. For things that involve listing a taxon (e.g., host plant), I prefer fields that have a datatype of “taxon” rather than “text”. This helps standardize the field (with text one person may be entering scientific names and another may be entering common names; then the field is treated as two different values when searched).
  2. If two fields are otherwise equal, I select the one that has been used the most (except for cases where the other is part of an iNat project for which I actively participate).
  3. I may use a few similar fields to express nuance in a situation. For example, say I see a generalist-herbivore caterpillar on a plant with no noticeable insect damage. Is the caterpillar just searching for a place to pupate, or was it feeding on a different part of the plant. In this case, I may use “plant that the organism was found on” rather than “insect host plant”.

A lot of the observation fields were created for very specific purposes and/or projects and probably won’t be much use to you unless you join those projects. But some of them can be very useful in general. To take the insect host plant example, adding a “taxon” type host plant observation field lets you do a couple of things.

  1. You can click on the taxon in the observation field and go directly to the taxon page. This may provide information (directly on the About tab or through links) about the insects that are known to eat that plant.
  2. For any observation field, you can click on the name of the field and click “View observations with this field and value” and you will get a page showing all those observations. Assuming the observation field is something about the organism itself (host plant, organisms that look like they’re molting, etc.), it may help you find similar observations that can help you make an ID. Sometimes I’ve found a RG observation that looks just like the one I’m trying to ID. Sometimes I find other unidentified observations that match and add comments that these are the other similar observations, so that if anyone ever figures out the ID, someone can update the others too.

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I often use Same specimen over time: + the ID of the first observation as the field value.
For instance:

For similar observations of different specimens that are likely of the same species, use Similar observation set. This is useful for observations you cannot identify yet. If someone provides the ID later, it is then easy to find all similar observations and identify them all.

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