Observations where photos do not all contain the same individual organism: Annotation options?

I’ve been looking to see if there’s a simple data annotation or data quality assessment checkbox to address the problem of observations where each photo shows a different individual of a species. However, to date, I can’t seem to find the answer.

As I understand, every piece of observational data (e.g. photos) should contain evidence of the same individual organism, per the definition on the help page:

An observation records an encounter with an individual organism at a particular time and location.

I’m not talking about observations where each piece of evidence points toward a different species of organism – it seems that iNat still doesn’t have a simple way to mark that, even though there is a feature request for an “easy way to mark multiple-species observations”. Though perhaps this is a similar problem.

So what should one do when you have multiple photos and they’re all the same species (though perhaps in different life stages), but which are clearly separate individual organisms? Is there a good way to mark those observations to prompt a (future) fix besides leaving a comment?

To clarify for anyone reading this:

I’m talking about the case where you have an “observation” with multiple photos (or audio recordings). Imagine that I have 3 photos attached to a single iNat observation of Homo sapiens.

  • Photo 1 shows my friend Bob (an adult human male),
  • Photo 2 shows my friend Alice (an adult human female), and
  • Photo 3 shows Calvin their son (a baby human male).

Now imagine the same situation with plants for fruit flies.

Having those 3 distinct photos of 3 distinct individuals means that one cannot annotate the observation with something like sex or age. It also goes against the definition of an “observation” on iNaturalist. So how does one mark it appropriately, i.e. so that it can be remedied or excluded?

I will add: Yes, I have searched extensively for an answer, and I cannot find one, so telling me to search for the answer does not help. Above I have linked the one other post which contains relevant information, that I have been able to find. If no specific method exists, please state that.

That would be almost all OBs of lichens - usually there are several thalli (individuals) growing side by side, quite a few insects (aphids, for example) and a total mess when it comes to non-lichenized fungi, in which it is impossible to define an individual.


Perhaps one option is to add an observation field related to ‘count’… DwC terms that could be used include OrganismQuantity or IndividualCount. see https://dwc.tdwg.org/terms/#occurrence.

OrganismScope is another option. https://dwc.tdwg.org/terms/#dwc:organismScope

i know that i am guilty of posting observations of more than one individual. If i see a flock or group of seagulls i am likely to post one observations with many photos showing different individuals. I am not convinced that i should post 20+ observations of the individual species observed at the location/date. By sharing the observation those interested can see that there are multiple individuals.
Others that i know would post individual observations of each gull as they are interested in sharing info about molting patterns of different species of gulls.

as the primary objective of iNat is to help connect people with nature the rules need to be few.
Altho ‘data’ is secondary we should provide means to iNatters to tag observations with as much info as possible. I strongly recommend using relevant DwC terms.


It is indeed a guideline to make observation photos all contain the same individual, but as long as it is same species I think you could let it slide. Perhaps a note to the observer reminding or alerting them to that guideline. I would only look at affecting the RG status if there was some other issue as well… different lifestages is maybe leaning more to the side of encouraging them to fix it (split into seperate obs), but again I think it wouldn’t warrant knocking it back.


Posting individual photos for every individual is simply not feasible in a lot of cases; think of a school of hundreds of fish, a rotten log cracked open to reveal thousands of termites, a swarm of midges.

edit: my bad here, I misread OP’s first post


As I understand it, the OP is not talking about several individuals in one photo, but of observations containing photo series, with different individuals shown in the separate photos.

I regularly encounter this issue with observations of fruit flies aggregations (or a swarm of coprophagous blow flies). Often one photo shows a male, next one a female (harder to ID than males). I usually tell them to duplicate and then delete the respective photos to allow an ID on species level.


I’ve requested that someone split an observation with butterflies, caterpillars & eggs of the same species into multiple observations so the eggs could be annotated (there were so few egg photos on iNat that I thought it would be useful to be able to find these).

Unless we can’t be certain that all individuals are the same species I’d agree with this:


I’d protest splitting it, you can often not tell which specimen is which, you can’t post 1000 geese separately and have right to postin 1 obsrvation (with limit of photos), I do try posting specimen separately, but it doesn’t seem like a good thing in many cases, posting each lichen separately while there’re hundrends on one tree? It makes no sense and they grow at the exact same spot! Plants? You cannot tell where vegetative clones stop at one place.

It was not suggested to make separate observations of each individual of a flock of hundreds of birds,but splitting when separate (full frame) individuals are shown in the same observation. Same individual but at different time points (and even life stages) is a related issue, as @zabdiel pointed out

How can you say those are different individuals if they have no unique features or photographed at different angles? And who will spend time distinguishing them for people who wouldn’t like doing it? It is not even possible in big part of cases.

We were promised the option to annotate individual photos, sometime in the future.


Again, the OP was giving two examples where it is clear that separate photos show different individuals. The topic was not about how to deal with an observation documenting several organisms of the same species in one photo. The discussion here was starting to digress in the direction of ‘making observations for each individual of a flock of birds’, so I want to bring it back to topic.


Nobody said anything about one photo, flock means they’re together and moving randomly, plants growing close in big % of times means clones or one root system. OP linking someone else’s observations claiming it is a problem does nothing good. iNat stuff answered many times they’re not against multiple specimen in one observation, so I don’t get why are we discussing it anyway.

Yeah, it seems that far more people have chimed in than the number (3) who have looked at the example observations.

To be clear, for everyone else, I’m talking about the case where you have an “observation” with multiple photos. Imagine that I have 3 photos for an observation of Homo sapiens. Photo 1 shows my friend Bob (an adult human male), photo 2 shows my friend Alice (an adult human female), and photo 3 shows Calvin their son (a baby human male). Now imagine the same thing with plants for fruit flies.

Having those 3 distinct photos of 3 distinct individuals means that one cannot annotate something like sex or age. It also goes against the definition of an “observation” on iNaturalist. So how does one mark it appropriately?

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iNat has millions observations without any annotations, it’s not a problem, though if it bothers you you can spend time annotating observations with one specimen only, there’re hundreds of thousands of those.

You are neither answering the question, nor are you being helpful in obtaining an answer.

I’m answering your original post, iNat stuff answered it in many other topics, I don’t bookmark those so I can’t link them but you can search them up, there’re many about annotations and many about specimen count in them. There will be no fix as it is not a problem. You can leave comments for observer to split them up, and observers often do that, but nothing more than that.

I have removed the examples from the top post and am reviewing flags. Y’all have to chill out.
I’m sorry I missed it initially but we strongly do not recommend publicizing examples of behaviour you do not like.

It does seem that some people missed the impetus of the question: is there a solution?
Currently, the only possiblity is to ask the observer to divide the images, but you must understand that not everyone will. Especially as in many case, it is not obvious, especially to a non-specialist, that they ought to be separated.
As @dianastuder said, in the future there is supposed to be a solution wherein each image can be annotated separately. I do not know the timeline for this.

And a reminder to everyone: be nice. Not just civil, try to be actually kind and sympathetic. That includes trying to understand how others are reading your words, and not calling people out as “unhelpful” nor individuals’ observations as bad.
iNat is a community before all and data is strictly secondary.


To be clear, I was only trying to give a pair of concrete examples to avoid abstraction. In my view those people who made the two sets of disparate (?) observations are trying to do something with a good intent, however that it should be labelled (for data purposes) somehow, just as one labels a garden-cultivated plant. I would not say that people are wrong to upload photos from their garden either!

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