Preserved specimens labelled as dead

Hi there,
On several occasions I have observed records of preserved specimens, especially insects, labeled as “dead.”
Is there a rule about this? I personally think that it is not appropriate to label it as dead because it would not reflect how it was found in nature.
In addition, it causes problems in projects on observations of natural mortality.

1 Like

If person collected it alive, it should be annotated as alive, you can leave comments about it, but it’s not a very big problem if they’re annotated as dead. Projects collecting dead observations are having them added manually, so it’s easy to not have those added.


With Marina. The dead/alive annotation should correspond to the observation’s date and location. If the observation records where and when it was collected alive it should be annotated ‘alive’. If the record is for where and when it was seen on a pin then it should be annotated ‘dead’ - the latter observation is obviously much less useful, though the pictures may be of value anyway especially if there are not many images available.


I annotate as dead.
‘Most’ obs on iNat will be alive - so the pinned and arranged specimen looks different.
For an identifier, we see, what you have photographed. What we see is very dead.

Anything which is clearly dead in the photo, was once alive - why is preserved = dead a problem?


Observations show what a person met with at the date and time they add, the insect was alive, it doesn’t matter if it died later and was pinned.


I have also come across people adding older specimens - when time and place are not so certain.
My single vote can easily be overturned? Or would you prefer me not to annotate as dead?

1 Like

I’d ask observer how they got the specimen, they could be found dead too, if observer doesn’t remember it’s fair to annotate as dead or leave blank/uncertain.


Agree, the annotation corresponds to the observation, not a specific picture; so if it was collected alive (and that’s the date and time), it should be annotated as alive.

Preserved specimens could easily have been found/collected dead though, so in most cases there’s no clear cut way to be sure how to annotate without input from the observer I think.


It’s not a huge problem, but one reason why I prefer that preserved specimens still be annotated as alive if the specimen was alive when caught is because it makes it easier to study the seasonal phenology. Otherwise there’s no easy way to filter and sort long-dead specimens that someone found in their windowsill in the winter vs “dead” specimens that were collected as live critters in the actual emergence period-- they all get muddled together on the charts.


What proportion of insect obs are (obviously) alive - to me, it seems like most?

Unless it’s a molt - but that can be annotated as such.

I see cases where both could be helpful. Dead specimens of a lot of insects change drastically in color, so sometimes I would guess it would be helpful to be able to sort them to see both forms.


I’ve often wondered about this. I don’t annotate pinned specimens as dead, because if they’re collected live and labeled properly, the “observation” is of a live insect in a certain time or place. (Of course, most entomologists will have a few insects in their collection/observations that were found dead and then pinned…that’s a different story.)

Does annotating an organism “dead” affect how phenological data appears on iNat? That would be useful, in that something found dead out of season (say, an annual cicada found dead in a garage in February) could be screened out of the phenology graph on the organism’s About page.

1 Like

yeah, I have a decent sized collection of pinned insects that are almost exclusively all specimens that I found dead

Not directly. On the taxon’s ‘about’ page there are a few different ways you can show the graph, e.g. split by sex, but not by alive/dead I think. Maybe a feature request :)

1 Like

For non-scientists like me, who are using the photo to help me get closer to an ID - that dead colour would be confusing. Colour in the picture is dead, even when the scientist insists ‘it was alive when I collected it’
(Closer to an ID, then I go up taxon levels till I am confident - and wait for Marina to take it further)

Yes, but for a pinned/preserved specimen, it is visually obvious that the picture is of a dead organism, so I don’t think that this should cause much confusion. The observation may show up when filtering for “alive”, but it’s easy to skip over/take into account these pictures if looking for ID info.

1 Like

Now THAT would make a great quote for many a tombstone. (At least, around here.)

1 Like

Please, sir - don’t shoot the messenger - I have LOTS more to ID …

1 Like

As others have said, observations record encounters with organisms or recent evidence of organisms, and the annotation is for the observation, so it should reflect the state of the organism when the encounter took place.

If/when we ever add photo annotation functionality, which we’d like to do, I think dead would be a good photo annotation if the photo is of a dead organism.


I meant this, of course, with nothing but full and utmost admiration of our mighty Ms. M!

If iNat ever gets big enough to support an office building or small campus, they better name a building or two after her.

(Maybe the campus pub?..
“Hey, see you after class.”
“Sure. Where?”
“How about at Marina’s?”
“Sounds good!”)

1 Like