People making wrong suggestions

I have had a couple of observations get a bunch of suggested IDs that are not correct and it seems to mess up the observations. one was full of suggested IDs that are not found in the area, as opposed to my ID that was commonly found here. I deleted and re-did the observations.
How is this supposed to be dealt with?


I think that the usual assumption is that people making IDs have good intentions and are trying to help. Maybe this was someone new who hadn’t figured out that some CV suggestions will be for stuff not in the area? I’d usually start by just messaging the person and asking why they think it’s an exotic species rather than a local species, which is educational for them (hopefully) and typically results in them withdrawing the problematic ID.


That sounds reasonable. Thank you.


one could also just tag them on the observation to start a discussion “in the open” or publicly visible (as long as trying to understand their reasoning, not just aggressively calling them out!)


That works, too. And, yes – it’s definitely good to ask politely. The hope is to encourage people to learn how to make good IDs, and not to discourage potential identifiers. Plus, I have occasionally asked about an odd exotic ID which has lead to the identifier telling me about a new invasive in the area, which is always worth knowing about.


It is also likely that these users will make IDs for others as well, so I would encourage everyone to try to get in contact with them and help them using the platform. You might also politely point them to the guidelines stating that IDs for other users should not be educated guesses but they need to know the features of the taxa they are identifying.
You can also go to the profile page and check how long they have been using iNaturalist, how many IDs they already made and in which geographic area they are active


One other thought, some of the suggestions seem to be from the mindset that the identifier is well meaning but wrong. But when I checked your observations, I saw a disagreement with your ID and the #1 and #3 identifiers for that Genus. The big identifiers on here know a lot.


Rather than deleting the observation, it might make sense to start a dialogue with the IDer(s) and/or tag other users to get a different point of view. I will occasionally get a wildly wrong ID from a new, overly enthusiastic user; this is generally straightened out fairly quickly by taxon experts.

However, it is unusual to get multiple such IDs for a single observation – I usually only see this in cases like school/university projects or other situations where multiple users have joined iNat together, and typically their IDs are for each other’s observations, not random users.

So it may be worthwhile determining what exactly is going on before deleting the observation, which doesn’t really solve any underlying concerns (i.e. are they experienced users or newbies blindly following CV suggestions, and if the latter, someone needs to reach out to them and encourage them to change their behavior – deleting the observation means that they may not become aware that there was even a problem with their IDs).


This is one way not to respond to a wrong ID. This response has totally destroyed my enjoyment of iNat.

“Please do not provide IDs on other user’s observations based on iNat suggestions and without a deeper understanding of the respective ID features. Thank you”

This particular ID had a very clear photo which gave me some confidence in trying to make an ID but I have been sucked down the rabbit hole of following iNat species suggestions before, as have many others. I typically look at many photos of iNat suggested species before I make an ID of a species I am not familiar with. When I have made a mistake I have often had very good conversations with members I consider experts in their domain who give me pointers. I also withdraw my ID and I learn from the experience.

Just a little background - I have suffered from Lyme disease for over 30 years, lost my aerospace job because of it, and suffer chronic pain. I have found that walking the fields enjoying nature and trying to photograph observations for iNat greatly reduced my pain and gave me some purpose. However, since I got this reprimand, I find I no longer enjoy going into the field and I no longer do IDs.


I’m sorry that you got such a discouraging response! You need to do what works for you, but not going into the field represents a big loss. I hope you can get past this and go out, with or without iNaturalist work. Also, you might actually find that returning to identifying would help.

We’re not all rude. Most of those who are seem to be clueless – people who need improved people and/or writing skills. (Sometimes otherwise better people who are having a very tough day.)


I have seen this response too on very rare occasions. When this happens I just laugh at the person and go about my day. Don’t let other people dictate how to enjoy inaturalist.


I have received some “pointed” advice* about IDing also. I also put a hold on any ambition of doing much IDing – a couple of times. Every so often, I take it up again, but sort of looking over my shoulder. (Edited, for tone)

When I read forum posts that implore people to pitch in and help with more ID work, I cringe a bit. *Especially if they are the same ones who try to direct how other people “should ID” (“their way”). So, yes, I feel your discontentment.

Yet, I do still cultivate my enjoyment of nature and being outdoors. And, I still enjoy making observations . This helps with my own physical (and emotional) issues. I try to encapsulate any sour feelings around IDing, and just get on with enjoying nature.

I am hoping your original enjoyment of nature wins out soon and you are back out in the field, exploring and examining and being amazed by the things you find there. :bangbang:


I don’t know the context here, and I am well aware that there some experts who can be rather unfairly harsh and dismissive towards laypeople. I am not defending this behavior and I am sorry that you have received comments that have discouraged you from IDing and destroyed your pleasure in being in nature.

The following comments are not directed at you specifically; they are some general thoughts about IDing in taxa where one is not an expert and what strategies are most effective.

While the tone is rather blunt, I don’t entirely disagree with the underlying sentiment: particularly for difficult taxa, it’s not a bad idea to be cautious when suggesting IDs for others unless you have a solid grounding in the basics of how to ID that taxon. (Note that I am not saying one needs to have formal training or scientific credentials – but when suggesting a low-level ID, one should have enough knowledge to critically evaluate the various possiblities.)

Comparing photos is a good start, but it often isn’t enough – you also have to know what features are relevant for ID. My own personal experience is that “looks plausible” varies quite a bit depending on how much familiarity I have with the taxon in question. I’ve made a few embarrassingly very wrong CV-inspired IDs for my own observations, and this was invariably in cases where I had in fact compared suggestions and checked related taxa and thought that the suggestion seemed reasonable based on my uninformed impression of the coloration or general body shape or similar – because I didn’t know what I needed to be looking for.

This sort of mistake is more likely in some taxa than others, and it has more significant consequences if it happens to be a taxon that is difficult and where there is a lack of skilled IDers to begin with. These taxa tend to be particularly prone to mis-IDs, so experts often spend a large portion of their time correcting wrong IDs and trying to keep mistakes from being perpetuated.

This sort of mistake also has more consequences if you are IDing someone else’s observation rather than your own, because many observers assume that if you are adding an ID you have expertise in the taxon in question and they may uncritically agree with you. For this reason, I am much more willing to go a bit beyond my level of confidence on my own observations than on other people’s.

So with difficult taxa, I think it is often preferable to stick with higher-level IDs and avoid genus or species unless one has a certain amount of knowledge and/or one is using reliable scientific reference material. (One general rule of thumb for assessing the difficulty of a taxon is to check the percentage of “research grade” observations, both at the species and genus level – if this is low, caution is probably advised.)


I would take that as them being frustrated that they feel like their IDs get no support. I get nowhere near the numbers of notifications as the numbers of IDs I do, which actually makes it even more discouraging when several of the notifications I do get are disagreements. It sometimes makes me want to pull back from ID work on the logic that “if I’m wrong that often, then my IDs aren’t helping.” It would be encouraging to see more agreeing IDs.

That can create whole other discouraging situations. As in, I IDed to genus, then other people refined it to a species within that genus. Then, some time later, I am going through my mavericks and discover that I am now a maverick on that observation, not because I was wrong about the the genus, but because I IDed only to genus – a taxon change moved the species-level IDs to a new genus.


As a newbie iNat user (< year) I finally came across a hard disagreement with an ID. The observer was confident it was one thing, while I was absolutely confident it was something different. I submitted my ID and left a brief reasoning why it is one particular genus and not another. The observer responded that no, it’s what they originally said it was, so I left it alone. All I can hope for is that someone else comes along and can positively identify it. If not, then it’ll stay in limbo. It’s not my observation so I won’t lose a wink of sleep either way.


So? Taxon changes can affect IDs at any level. Someone could split the species. Or move the genus into a different family. Or restructure the entire order based on a new understanding of the phylogenetic relationships. There is no way to guarantee that any ID you make, at any level, won’t become a disagreement due to factors that have nothing to do with the criteria you used to make your ID.

The possibility that someone might later come along and split the genus isn’t a reason to make a species ID. The reason for making a species ID should be that you can justify why it is that particular species and not some other. My point was that if one is not familiar with the taxon in question, basing an ID only on comparison of photos can result not only the wrong species but even the wrong genus or family. This is avoidable – i.e., by supplementing this with other resources or choosing an ID at a higher level.

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More than once, I’ve seen a plant observation that features a sign and the observation uses the same ID as the sign, only for the sign to be wrong and the observer doesn’t believe me. The possible reasons include 1) incorrect from the beginning, 2) original plant died, and 3) taxonomic changes.


Oh, there are plenty of misleading signs out there. The most common issue I see along nature trails is that the plant has disappeared and new ones have grown in its place. The stick-in-the-ground types at botanical gardens may have gotten blown over by the wind or pulled out for weeding or other maintenance and put back with the wrong plants etc. Or the signed plant may simply be dormant and the observation is for the weeds that came up during its off-season. Signage is a good clue, but not the ultimate proof of ID.

As for the original question, if you think an ID is incorrect, you can counter it with what you think is the correct ID. If it is on your own observation and you think the ID is nonsense, you can reject the community ID to keep your own ID. If the community thinks your ID is wrong though, this may end up with your observation being made casual.

But as others have said, one thing to always consider is that maybe it is your ID that is wrong. I’ve had this plenty of times where I was certain I had the correct ID only for someone to come along and put a different species that I didn’t even know existed because it is not in any of my field guides. If you go by CV suggestions, it happens even more often because not all species are recognized by the CV, only the most commonly observed ones. I view these disagreements as great learning opportunities. If no explanation is offered, I will ask the identifier. Most people are happy to explain and I’ve learned a few ID tricks that way.

As for identifiers getting reprimanded for their efforts, yes that has happened to me, too. I was once told off for adding IDs to poor quality observations (obviously the work of a school project of some sort) that “don’t deserve to be rewarded with IDs” according to the comments I got. I’ve been told to delete IDs when I put them on duplicates. I choose to ignore such comments for the most part.

I try not to rely on CV suggestions when identifying but sometimes I will make IDs based on that e.g. when going through older unknowns or trying to resolve high level ID conflict, assuming that CV has improved over time and is now making better suggestions than say 5 years ago and having some ID is better than leaving things Unknown or at Life. I try to verify with other sources when it would results in the ID becoming research grade, because I think that should require a bit more than just checking the CV, and for the same reason I would not follow up an initial CV-suggested ID with another CV suggestion.


Also realize that there is a lot of neurodiversity here on iNaturalist. What may come across as rude may not have been intended to be that way at all.


One solution is to put your reasoning in the Comments of Observations field. That way, people will know why you ID it the way you did. This is particularly important when dealing with a rarer taxon in a field of common taxa (pun intended) where IDs by the less familiar are very likely to be wrong.

You’ll never avoid the problem entirely. iNat isn’t just a tool, it’s become a microcosm of society, and there are those who gain self esteem (or something) by collecting IDs. I’ve seen a bunch of them, they just rubber stamp observations so they can get more IDs and see their avatar listed; if the previous ID is wrong, who cares, pile on and get those numbers up.

One thing that does NOT do anyone any good is for you to get frustrated. Primarily because it’s only going to give YOU high blood pressure. So do yourself a favor: ID the best you can, and let it go.