Photos that don’t appear in observations?

Is it OK to add photos that are not associated with observations to record research information?

I’ve been seeing photos in the Unknown list that aren’t used in any observations. They seem to be used to capture research notes, like photos of empty collection containers or place identifiers. This are two examples of place identifiers from a user I noticed in the Unknowns today:

I can see how a researcher might want to keep all their photos in one place (the identifier label is often recorded in the observation description), but it’s a drain on iNaturalist, which is a free service. I personally could use this for my underwater IDs, to record the details of a dive site using my photo of the dive map. But it seems wasteful of a free public resource. I’ve only noticed it recently. Maybe it’s the start of the semester…

the first one, going by the “placeholder” text, is a photopoint observation. Not strictly the iNat definition of what an observation is, but we (in NZ that see these from time to time) have been picking a subject near centre, making the ID for that, and leaving a comment to that effect. I personally see them as an opportunity to (politely) guide another iNatter towards a more appropriate form of observation. I also might point out that if they are relying on the GPS coords of the photo/observation to be able to go back and get the future photopoints, that they should factor in that GPS can be out by +/- 20m, with my personal experience being around +/-5m typically. It’s better to line up permanent landmarks as well, just as a more solid reference point.

The second one looks a legit observation, with sign showing the past presence of an organism. The banding can be useful to sites that document where banded birds end up, so not just a valid observation, but likely to be a very informative one! I would perhaps put the feathers as first photo though, and the banding subsequent.


In the first case, personally I would mark it instead as “evidence of organism = No” and then it could just become filed in Casual with the placeholder text as the “memento”. Labeling it with one of the forms of life in the frame instead takes away from the likely-intended memento effect.

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Technically, photopoints such as that are against iNat policy overall, but as long as you can identify and ID at least one organism somewhere in the photo you can just do that, and the observation is totally fine. With the added bonus of adding data as well. You can use tags, a field, or a traditional project to keep track of them. I do lots of natural community mapping but including large, easy to ID tree species, so I just take a picture of that tree with the rest of the ecosystem in the background visible too, ID it as the tree species, and use an observation field to track the natural community.


I would really recommend using something like for mapping non-organisms or non-wild organisms, so the first one isn’t a great iNat observation, although as @charlie said you can make it one…I think it’s best to reach out to the user and ask them what they’re using iNat for so you can understand the situation.

The second observation seems legitimate.

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What about observations of empty nets or cups? I came across a collection of various colored kitchenware, which I believe would be useful for photographing invertebrates of different sizes and colors. But they were empty of organisms or evidence of organism. I did mark them “no evidence of organism.”

I didn’t recognize the bird band. That’s legitimate evidence of an organism.

I will say that i initially came into this issue with a real wish to be able to map ecosystem types instead of just species and after adopting this approach i really came around. Because I add species and tag them with the ecosystem type, I now either go in making a species list or tagging indicator species, which means i get both a map of where these natural communities occur AND rough but really neat species lists for habitat types. For instance: i do a lot of ecological surveys of small seeps in Vermont in the US and because of that I now have this neat list of species in rough order of abundance/observability in seeps.

When you truly search for something and find nothing, that’s harder. iNat doesn’t have a good way to mark absence, and none of the work-arounds people have created are ideal.


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