Posting species that can’t be photographed in the wild

How should one go about posting microscopy photos of small organisms? They must be collected and brought to the lab to be photographed, so the image is not from the wild and yet this is not a tame, captive or cultivated specimen, so the label “casual” doesn’t seem appropriate. The organisms in this case have been newly described and there are very few (if any) people who could confirm the identity. It would be posted by the individual who described it. I think the photos would be valuable, but the last time my husband posted one identified to species it was promptly downgraded to family because no one else on the forum knows how to identify it. Is it perhaps inappropriate to post on iNaturalist at all?


Not inappropriate. I would post those with the time and location of where they were collected, so good record keeping is important if the photographs will be taken later. Lots of observations start at species, get “downgraded” to a higher taxa, and get dialed in with subsequent reviews. I wouldn’t be too concerned about that.


As long as location and observation date shows where and when they were collected there is nothing at all wrong with posting microscope slides as evidence for the observation.

As for observer putting a species level ID that then gets bumped back to family… that should NOT be happening. There should be a conversation at the very least prior to any explicit disagreement that is made to push back an over-reaching ID, otherwise how do they know it is an over-reaching ID? There are times when I will do so on the assumption of the observer being absentee, in which case I will usually state in a comment why I am pushing it back, and clearly indicating that if the observer or other identifier wishes to assert their position then I will withdraw my explicit disagreement. The idea that an organism could be described by an author, who then puts ID to that species on an observation they make that is supported by microscopic evidence supplied by that author/observer, only to have it “pushed back” as an over-reach is just plain nuts.



Here’s what I’ll say. If it’s possible to photograph the organism where it was found, do that. That’s the best-case scenario. If that isn’t viable, and you take a photo in the lab, it’s alright to upload the image, but be prepared for people asking for the original time of observation and other such details, as the time posted will be the time you took the image at home.

On a separate note, your observations shouldn’t be getting “downgraded” to family unless it’s almost impossible to identify it. If that’s happening you should tag the user who changed the ID and ask for their reasoning. It’s always good to do some research when you upload an obscure observation, that way you can at least help with the identification a little bit.

All in all, it’s completely appropriate to upload these images, and you shouldn’t get discouraged by the Casual marking, as it only shows that the observation wasn’t taken from a natural standpoint, and the organism was moved. I agree with @kiwifergus, if Casual was reworded or explained somewhere it would be seen as less of a “bad” label. However, for observations that don’t include an image or recording, or are captive, I think it still works fine.

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Side note–We did a collection of the bees in our state and a half dozen have no photos, one has a labeled drawing. Should we just relabel them Casual then?

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I’m glad you brought that up. If the ob just has a location and a description of the organism sighted, then I believe the general consensus is that that ob should be labeled Casual. Since there isn’t an organism visible, marking it like so will automatically label it Casual. If the ob includes a drawing as well, I think technically that would also be classified as Casual, just because there isn’t an image. I wouldn’t relabel anything unless the majority of identifiers looking at the ob agree that it should be relabeled. If you marked the ob truthfully in the Annotations tab, I think it’s alright to leave for now, as it will either automatically be labeled Casual, or someone will come along and share their opinion.

If there is no photo or sound, the observation should automatically go to casual.

A labelled drawing is a bit of a grey area I would think. Historically, good quality drawings were accepted as scientifically valid observations. I’m not sure what the official iNat policy is on this.


I would still perceive it as a bad label in the specific case of the OP. If the locality is given as the collection site and not the lab, then in my opinion that satisfies the “location is accurate” criterion.


One solution for posting the observation and getting correct location and collection time: Take a photo with your phone when you do the collection; this will give the correct time and location. After you take additional photos (in your case, microscopy photos), upload the collection photo from your phone first and iNat will take the time and location from that; then add other photos to that observation. I’ve done this (e.g., for tiny flowers where I wanted more magnification than I was carrying in the field), and it works fine on the Web app – never tried it with the phone app, though.

Another solution is to make sure there’s no date or location data attached to the microscopy photos. Possible ways for doing this include stripping it out using photo editing software like GIMP; changing your camera settings so that time and location data are not recorded in the photo; and other methods easily tracked down on the Web (i.e., use whatever works best for your camera and your workflow). Then when you upload the microscopy photo as an observation, you can enter the collection time and location. Having uploaded photos to iNat with no EXIF data (from a macro camera with no GPS and date function), I can say that this method works fine with the Web app.

Maybe the first solution is a little more true to the spirit of iNat, since it shows the initial encounter between the observer and the organism (true, you can’t see the organism, but you can see the encounter) – it is certainly less time consuming, as stripping EXIF data from photos can be annoying.


That is pretty much what I do also. Eg. If I take screenshots from a video then I will use the video metadata and put that in the screenshots.

Just to clarify, I am not referring to “casual”, which I am completely fine with… The issue for me is the modal box that pops up when you put a coarser ID than the current CID, where it asks you “Can you see evidence that it is X. y”, which suggests to the identifier that if THEY can’t see evidence, they should pick the orange option, but the result of doing so is a statement that they think it is NOT THAT SPECIES, which is often not what they intended to state. It also effectively counts as a cancellation of one of the finer level observations, which in the case cited above is probably as accurate an identification as we are ever likely to see! When identifiers are challenged through dialogue about their “statement that they think it can’t be that species”, they refer back to the wording of the modal that supports their having made the explicit disagreement.

All that is needed is to clarify in that modal that they should select the explicit “if they can see evidence it is not OR the community would support rolling back an over-reaching ID”. Then when challenged they will understand the fine difference between the two, rather than immediately jumping to the defence of their identification with “but the modal says…”!


Drawings if they done from the seen specimen are good for RG.


Thanks for the reminder. I had seen that mentioned before, and I may yet use it.

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As you say, historically (ie: pre digital photography) field drawings or laboratory drawings were widely used with appropriate field marks labelled and commented upon. Often in fact a good drawing is better than a photograph. It is the quality of the observation that matters in making the right ID.


This was done from memory–able to tell it was a bee, not able to tell which sort of bee.

More than half of the literature in spiders (at least those present here in New Zealand) have drawings of morphological features, rather than photos. So we are literally basing our IDs on drawings!


If the drawing was made from memory I would mark it casual. It is still a useful data point, especially for your own use, but a drawing from memory will always support your ID position, and would not provide the possibility to refute. A drawing of what you are actively seeing is far more likely to be accurate in details, so could provide evidence to contest. Not withstanding different abilities of visual recall etc…

It’s a little bit like writing down verbatim what someone says, vs your interpretation of their meaning. A drawing from memory is interpretation, a drawing of what’s in front of you is verbatim.

But if it was seen for not long time to draw it right there? Like, we saw hare this summer, it was obvious, but he saw us too and run away, or I had Black Woodpecker flew over my head yesterday, it’s one birdof a kind in the region, I saw it well, but if I had enough time I’d better photograph it than draw it. Not that I’m gonna draw them, but I see almost no reason to draw something you see for long periods of time as it’s rare now not to have at least a smartphone to photograph the object.

In the case of a hare drawing, I am imagining that you saw a hare, and then several hours later uploaded an observation of it. Is your recollection enough to say definitively it was a hare and not a rabbit? I would consider your ability, knowledge and experience to be sufficient to make that call, but I would not if it were my daughter, who thinks they are all rabbits. If my daughter posted an observation of a rabbit and included a sketch that showed it sitting in a nest in long grass, I would challenge her and verify that detail. My daughter could literally see a hare, and then from memory draw a picture of it emerging from a burrow because that is her concept of what a rabbit is. If she were drawing what she was literally looking at, then she would not draw the burrow.

I agree, if you have time to draw you probably have time to photograph. I’m only commenting on the “memory vs actually seeing” difference.

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That place doesn’t have rabbits and surely it was much bigger.

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