Project Report: Addressing EoP:Track annotations within Insecta

(Warning: Long, but hopefully interesting!)

In June 2021, iNaturalist introduced a new annotation Evidence of Presence (EoP). One of the possible values was “Track” which was defined as “Impression in ground or snow made by an organism.”

Since that time, users applied the value to a number of other conditions outside the definition, sometimes being applied to observations showing all or part of an organism (perhaps incorrectly synonymized with “trace” (?)), and within class Insecta, often to leafmines and webs.

In March 2024 (just under a month ago), iNaturalist introduced new Evidence of Presence values including “Leafmine” and “Construction.” While these added values allowed for more specific metadata to be added to observations, it created a situation where some leafmines were annotated with Track, some with Leafmine, some with both, and of course, some with neither.

I undertook an effort to address annotations of EoP:Track within order Lepidoptera, and I am pleased to report that after two weeks of work, that project is complete. I wanted to offer a summary to provide insight into lessons learned that might inform future annotation values, and the community’s opinion on the use of annotation values outside of their definition. I’ll also offer my thoughts on how this impacts annotation of life stage.

When I began, there were 390 pages of Lepidoptera annotated with EoP:Track. As of right now, there are just 66 observations remaining annotated that way, showing what I consider to be some delightful examples of actual Lepidopteran tracks: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/identify?reviewed=any&quality_grade=needs_id%2Cresearch%2Ccasual&taxon_id=47157&photos=true&term_id=22&term_value_id=26&place_id=any

Among those, there is one that does not technically meet the definition, but meets the spirit of it (the second photo shows a track in dust (or moisture?) on top of a trash can).

Of course, the goal here was not to undo all of the work that went into applying the Track annotations originally, and so as I disagreed with Track annotations, I also attempted to add one or more other annotations - often Leafmine, sometimes Construction (and in conjunction with that, Scat in webworm constructs), and in some cases simply Organism where one was visible. There are now 326 pages of Lepidoptera observations annotated EoP:Leafmine, 115 pages annotated EoP:Construction, and a whopping 44,639 pages annotated EoP:Organism! @ceiseman indicated that “When I’m all caught up on reviewing observations in the leafminer projects, I’ve taken to reviewing observations with the leafmine annotation” so hopefully this results in some folks getting improved identifications.

I did not apply an annotation where it was unclear to me if what was shown was a leafmine, or if it appeared to be surface feeding damage. I did the best I could, but I am no Charley Eiseman! Now would be a great time to review your Lepidoptera observations if you are concerned that I have unfairly robbed you of an annotation. I can confidently say that in a majority of cases I replaced Track with something else, but there will be some observations that need an EoP:Leafmine annotation applied.

I also did not attempt to annotate things like leaf folds and leaf rolls as EoP:Construction. I think those would be valid annotations, but I did not include doing that in the scope. There were also some rather unique cases that are probably worth community discussion, like the Horn-borer moths (e.g.Ceratophaga vastella) and their other keratin-loving relatives in Tineidae. I think these constitute constructions, but I think a consensus should probably built by the folks who are most interested in them. (Edit: I have since gone back and added EoP:Construction annotations where applicable for all of genus Ceratophaga.)

I’d like to see a decision on borers (perhaps “EoP: Bore” for feeding paths in wood and bark) to give people a better option than trying to stretch the Track annotation, especially given all the Emerald Ash Borer devastation we currently have in the US. (Edited now that I see the Beetle galleries are covered under the defitinition for EoP:Construction.) Feeding damage to plants in general still falls into the “use an observation field instead” category - but I think that there would be clear interest in additional annotation values evidenced from the number that have already been applied, and the long-running forum thread.

Where I could, I added or agreed with Life Stage: Larva and EoP: Organism annotations where one was visible within a Leaf Mine. Where an exit hole was visible, I disagreed with those values. I realize that this is not consistent with Tony Iwane’s Nov. 2019 answer, but Charley indicated that “being able to easily find observations of occupied mines will definitely be helpful in the future when I’m trying to summarize the phenologies of particular species.”


This effort was subsequently extended to all of Insecta. All told, nearly 900 pages have been reduced to just under 15 pages of Insecta observations with EoP:Track annotations: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/identify?reviewed=any&quality_grade=needs_id%2Cresearch%2Ccasual&place_id=any&taxon_id=47158&photos=true&term_id=22&term_value_id=26
There are now 744 pages of Insecta observations annotated EoP:Leafmine, 510 pages annotated EoP:Construction, and a whopping 127,565 pages annotated EoP:Organism! Browsing the EoP:Leafmine observations, it’s easy to spot some large caterpillars, so obviously some education remains to be done on what a leafmine is.

I feel like having put in the effort, I have the right to a few opinions, and so here they are:

  1. We add annotations to improve the value of our observations with metadata. Anything we do that reduces the value of that metadata (such as annotating Life Stage: Larva to any leafmine and thus flattening phenology graphs) is contradictory to the point of annotating. However, I think it’s fair to acknowledge that this was a different discussion before the Leafmine annotation was introduced.
  2. If you want to be liberal with how you use annotations (and I understand their utility for projects and data handling in general), then also be liberal in applying fixes/corrections/improvements when they become available.
  3. I saw multiple observations where someone had added the EoP:Leafmine annotation, but not removed EoP:Track. If you’re afraid someone will get angry at you for data correction, just tell them to blame it on me!

The biggest pet peeve from doing this were the observations where users selected something for ALL the annotations, regardless of whether they were applicable or not. Maybe they think it will get the observation more attention? Not sure, but probably something educators should mention as a “NOT to do” during student bioblitzes.

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EoP: Track annotations are now addressed within Coleoptera as well. Observations of holes, excavated material, beetle galleries, and leaf rolls that were previously annotated with EoP:Track have now been annotated as Construction. (@colinpurrington has an excellent page on leaf-rolling weevils here, btw.)

There are just 176 observations remaining in Coleoptera now annotated with Track (that number will probably drop slightly with some additional cleanup). There might even be an observation showing track evidence of two different species: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/146850813.

I think it’s a “trail” not a track, but I did think the motion-blurred headlight beetle observation was cool:

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EoP:Track is now also addressed for Blattodea, resulting in less than one page of actual tracks, and 11 pages of “one stop shopping” for all of your termite mound and tunnel observation needs. The handful of observations from the non-Pterygota orders.have been addressed as well, as have Dermaptera, Embioptera, and Ephemeroptera (leaving just a single observation). Just another 413 pages to go for the rest of Insecta (less than half of the original total).

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Hemiptera is also now complete, leaving less than one page. All those spittlebug bubbles are now EoP:Construction.

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Mantodea is now complete - all those oothecae previously annotated Track are now annotated Construction. There were no observations of Mecoptera, Megaloptera or Notoptera annotated with EoP:Track.

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Odonata are complete, leaving just a handful of naiad trails and maybe one adult track.

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Orthoptera is complete. I marked ringbarking and mole cricket tunnels (including collapsed ones) as EoP:Construction. In another technical exception to the definition, I left the observations showing Wētā Prints. Neat!

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Phasmida complete (0 remain), Plecoptera complete (1 remains). Psocodea complete (0 remain, webs like this one annotated as EoP:Construction). None in Raphidioptera. Siphonaptera, Strepsiptera and Thysanoptera complete (0 remain). Trichoptera complete (2 remain) - caddisfly larvae cases annotated as EoP: Construction. There were no Zorapterans annotated EoP:Track.

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Neuroptera is complete, leaving 41 observations. I left the Track annotation where tracks were visible, but it’s not necessarily clear to me that the tracks are necessarily Neuroptera, given the mechanism of action for antlion pits, which were annotated as EoP:Construction. Continuing to refine this.

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A lot of effort went into this! Inspiring and one of the things that makes iNat such a great community.

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  • 4 pages in Insecta above Order remain (just over 100 observations). This will always be a “holding bin” of sorts I think. If anyone is interested in identifying insect tracks, this would be a great place to start and compare against what remains from each Order.
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Diptera is now complete. I’m making a technical exception for tracks in chocolate. Shout out to @zdanko and the fly folks who helped out!

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Hymenoptera is complete, down from 80 pages to just 10 observations remaining. I removed about 200 EoP:Track annotations from Megachilidae that were used to note leaf cutting on plants. Maybe interested folks can speak up to suggest a new annotation, or if there’s a suggested observation field that should be used instead. Also replaced EoP:Track on a bunch of Proctotrupomorpha with EoP:Gall. Apologies for any errors.

All those ant hills, cicada killer burrows, wasps nests and bee hives/honeycombs are now EoP:Construction. I found one observation that may be a genuine ant track and another one with ink tracks. Also one yellowjacket, one sand wasp, and one bee. I left a handful of mud dauber and wasp marks where I couldn’t be sure if they were made with feet or mandibles, and also, what’s an “impression” per the definition?

At some point, the size of the foot is just too small in comparison to the size of the dirt/sand particles to make EoP:Track a meaningful annotation. As a result (perhaps controversially), I migrated ant trails to EoP:Construction (by way of analogy, a deer trail is not a deer track). This may not improve their “findability,” but then, I don’t think it makes them harder to find either (they’re just as buried in EoP:Construction as they were in EoP:Track before. But, y’know, change my mind. There were only a handful.) To provide clarity, my approach was “an imprint made by one insect is a track, a path made by many insects is a trail.”

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Wow! Thank you for doing all of this work!
I was recently trying to figure out how to annotate a piece of an organism, specifically in the case of this piece of luna moth wing: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/208126002.

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You’ve got it right. EoP:Organism includes “whole or partial organism” so you’ve got a partial organism, Adult (as evidenced by the wing) and you don’t know if it’s alive or dead per the discussion on the observation. Good job!

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