Photo annotations

I can’t find it now (edit: I found it!), but I remember seeing an observation of a eucalypt a while ago, and the photos were awesome because the observer had taken the time to basically photoshop labels that pointed to diagnostic features all over them.

I think it’d be really cool to be able to do that in iNaturalist itself—for example, to label diagnostic features or to point out something odd or even just to ask for more information or help about a feature (e.g. is this a sepal or a petal?). It’d be good if an identifier could also annotate someone else’s photo in the same way.

I guess I envisage a system a bit like Facebook’s face tagging feature (minus the auto-recognition, although that could be cool too) where labels or clickable hotspots pop up when you hover over the image.

Note: Moved from Feature Requests to General on March 15, 2019


We’ve talked about something similar with tagging and zooming but… “annotations” in a photo are a great idea too.


Agreed, a very useful idea. Wikimedia has had that for a while, eg
where you can label regions in an image (seen when you hover the mouse over the image).

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This is definitely something we’ve discussed and want try out. Probably, alas (because it would be cool!), less of a priority than the revamps of notifications, observations search, and some other big things mentioned here.

@crellow, because this is something the iNat team already plans on trying out, do you mind if I move this to the General category so people can discuss it but not vote on it?


@tiwane That’s fine. :) Feel free to move it.

A very useful feature if the annotations can be toggled on & off from various identifiers.

How does iNat plan to deal with immature humour regarding these annotations, such as a bent over bird with a rude drawing? Would flagging such behaviour automatically remove the annotation?

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same as anything else, if it’s bad data or lewd pretty harshly, because this isn’t reddit or whatever. people already occasionally do horrible things already, like racially charged animal IDs of humans, and anyhow is a drawing going to be any worse than certain photos that could appear here? Thankfully the site is low on people posting pictures of human mating behavior, or at least they get deleted fast.


Let’s face it, it’s not possible to prevent someone from posting that sort of stuff entirely. There will always be some idiots. Therefore the best first defense is surely to make it as easy as possible to report it and get it blocked when it happens.


This is SUCH a good idea! It would increase the pedagogic value of iNaturalist manyfold. Indeed, each taxonomic group has specific anatomical jargon that facilitates communication among specialists but is impenetrable to beginners.

Two examples taken from randomly opening

  • a guide to snails: “a columellar fold and a long lamella-like palatal fold”
  • a guide to orthroptera: “sub-genital plaque in two long lobes, extending beyond the cerci”
  • a guide to plants: “main umbels with unlobed to 2-3 lobed bracts”

So whenever someone proposes an ID and someone asks “can you please explain why this and not speciesZ?”, they risk receiving scientifically precise but incomprehensible replies that are discouraging and accentuate the gulf between “experts” and “normal people”.

Furthermore, many expert identifiers write in English. But observers are not necessarily fluent in English in the first place, and adding jargon only makes it more complicated.

Being able to annotate photos means the identifier can write in plain English, things like “this fold distinguishes this from speciesZ”. Or they can use anatomical jargon in a clear way (e.g. “this columellar fold is absent from species Z”).

Thinking about the specifics:

  • It needs to be possible for multiple people to annotate a photo (the observer and subsequent IDers) and to subsequently edit/delete those annotations
  • It needs to be possible to pinpoint the location of the annotation (not just large squares, but specific points, or even better arrows)
  • For this not to become a mess, ideally it should be possible to toggle on and off the annotations to see one person’s annotations at a time
  • I am dreaming high here, but the annotated photos could then be shown in a special section of the taxon’s page, so that potential IDers could go there to figure out the traits that make each species special. It would be a great complement to the section “similar species”.
  • Furthermore, IDers could point in their comments to relevant annotated photos rather than repeating the same basic explanations over and over.



Flickr has this in the form of “notes” that you can add by drawing a box on a picture and adding text to it. They are only visible when you hover over the picture. Examples: leaf IDs, anatomical features on a spider, male/female moss plants, etc. I always thought this was a great tool and I’m glad they brought it back (the feature disappeared for a while). Whether other people can use it to annotate your photos is something photographers can turn on/off in their permissions settings, and they can also edit/delete other people’s notes on their pictures if they feel they are inappropriate. May be something to look at for inspiration if something similar is being planned for iNat.


I’d love to see something like this implemented and/or somehow merged with larger identification points and guidance within different taxa.

This could also help provide clarity when it’s unclear what exactly a user wants to be identified. If a user could outline what part of the photo they want to focus on there would be less confusion when there are multiple plants or even a bug/ fungus/ etc. on a plant with no initial ID.

It would also be useful to be able to individually tag/ID sex, life stage, etc. if there were multiple specimen and tagging an image multiple times were possible. To add to this, if tagging multiple different species were possible we might be able to pull some interesting ecological data. I’d be very interested in being able to tag/ID everything identifiable in a photo.


Having in picture annotations would be extremely useful.
For example im thinking of identifying bees. An important marker is quibtal cells on there wings being different. Being able to show that with an annotation would be useful.
Also couldbbe used for the machine learning one day I guess.
Could also help with images with multiple organisms. I have pictures of mating dragon flies which I can’t lable correctly because I have male and female entangled.

But in general it would also be important that you could lable individual images for their content. Especially for plant I usually take picture of the flower, the leaves and an overview. Other apps like PlantNet neatly sepreate the pictures according to the content. Which makes comparing them really easy. Say you have a flower which looks very similar to another… Switch over to leaves and compare them.

Hope iNaturalist team will find time for it soon


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