Should people be encouraged to be as specific as possible when putting suggestions for observations?

Perhaps this question has been asked before, or even brought up in previously unrelated posts, but I feel like I should be as specific as possible when trying to help identify an observation. This does not mean someone should suggest a species or genus if they are not comfortable doing so.

For instance, there are numerous plant or fungal species that I have absolutely no idea what it could be, even by using the Computer Vision on “Visually Similar”. I usually do not only use the iNaturalist Computer Vision to help identify observations; I also use Wikipedia, NatureServe Explorer, BOLD Systems, and any other credible academic papers/sources to help with identifications. Usually, I cite the aforementioned sources along with reasoning for the identification. I even state sometimes when I am unsure, “I am not an expert on X, so I could be wrong on this identification.”

However, I feel that sometimes an identification can be made better, specifically by going to the subspecies level. Obviously, this is difficult to do sometimes, especially for bird species that are migratory in nature. This is not always the case. A good example are Painted Turtles, which have four subspecies With good pictures, it is possible to identify the delineating features of a certain subspecies. All I want to do is make sure that the data is accurate. It not only helps me, but everyone in iNaturalist, and by extension, the world.


As long as it is accurate it is good, but you need to decide for yourself what can you id with 100% certainty, sometimes even with keys and good photos it’s a hard decision to make, I prefer staying at a higher level in situations that I think it is an x species. Fungi are definitely a no-go for a regular person lower than a genus in most cases unless it’s a charismatic or an only one in an area, but they get so little attention that genus or family is a precise id!


Welcome to the Forum!

I appreciate the effort you put into trying to identify your own organisms. Many observers don’t do any research whatsoever.

There is no downside provided you pay attention and withdraw if it turns out you made a mistake. It’s also worth learning common mistakes in your area so that you don’t have two mistaken IDs.


My advice would be absolutely be as specific as possible. I will actually often use “I think it’s this” IDs even if I’m not sure to see if someone will disagree. If it’s wrong, you can be almost certain that the iNat community will correct you eventually. There’s always someone more knowledgeable in a particular genus than you. I’ve noticed some of those folks won’t bother confirming a genus level ID but they will correct you if you picked the wrong species ID. Once you’ve hooked an expert, ask them how to tell the difference! I could name lots of examples where I actually was 100% certain when I put the ID on and subsequently learned that was actually not such a clear-cut case and I need pictures of certain features to tell for sure. I appreciate those learning opportunities. They may not have happened if I had used a more generic ID. Just be prepared to be open-minded and withdraw your IDs if it turns out you missed the mark.


My only caveat on subspecies is that I notice many IDers iding to subspecies based solely on range but for observations where other diagnostic characters are not visible (so IDing to subspecies without the location would not be possible).

Painted turtles are actually a good example of this. C. picta dorsalis is pretty easily IDable to subspecies from a pic, but, given most pictures of painted turtles on iNat are not great and usually from a distance, the other three subspecies are generally not distinguishable/idable based solely on visual evidence.

In this case, IDing to subspecies based solely on range doesn’t really add any information (anyone wanting to use the data at subspecies level could easily make that ID based on range too). And it does have a slight downside which is that most range maps aren’t perfect. If the ID to subspecies is based solely on range, it obscures any individuals of different subspecies that might be present in areas either through migration, range expansion, or (gasp) the map being a bit wrong.

So for those reasons I often don’t ID to subspecies based on range even when it is possible, as I think it is the more conservative and potentially accurate choice (and I don’t see any benefit).


It’s not academic and it’s not even a primary source and in some domains - it’s not very credible. But it can be handy and you can still follow the primary sources cited in it


From my point of view, this is a difficult question and not an unambiguous one. It depends. Yes, you might attract expert’s attention by a very specific ID, erroneous or not. But you also can attract an unthinking Agree button-hitter, too, and when expert finally comes and corrects the initial erroneous ID, the button-hitters decision might remain, obstructing the OB from a true name.Especially if the said button-hitter is no more active and has become inaccessible and the organism is of the group where experts are few.


I do not identify to species level unless I am 100% sure. I used to identify liberally to species level, and then got a vigorous education on how many species have similar look-alikes, so now there are a handful that I specialize in.

If you do identify to species level, it only takes one agree to bump it to research grade and take it out of the “needs identification” pile, so chances are that no one will ever look at it again.

I liberally identify to genus level if I have a some (whimsical) degree of certainty. My justification is that things id-ed to genus level often get more attention than at a coarse ID level, so I am helping get it to who needs to look at it. I also try to baby-sit my IDs carefully, so if someone disagrees I can withdraw. And genus will not make an observation research grade, so even if someone else clicks “agree” it will still stay in the pile for further identification.

I rarely put anything more than “fungi and lichen” for fungi and lichen. Actually, I’m amazed that many of the things I’ve always thought of as lichen have been identified as sack fungi. That gives you an idea of how clueless I am - I’m glad iNaturalist puts them together so I have someplace to put so many unknowns. I wonder if there’s a good layperson-level article about the difference…
The only exceptions for me are splitgill and morels, which I feel are unique enough that I can make a lower-level identification. I sure hope that I’m right about that.


Lichens (most of them) are sack fungi, so you can id at least at this level without hesitation (I use Lecanoromicetes for lichens, other groups are not well presented here) . Also all normal-looking :mushroom:s are Agaricomycetes (as well as many other forms), so I use it a lot.

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I wholeheartedly agree with this excellent advice!


Well, lichens are sac fungi. Most of them belong to Lecanoromycetes class, but a few quite recognizable ones are of Arthoniomycetes. So, if you IDed one as, let us say, Ramalina, but an expert IDed it as Roccella, the resulting level will be Sac fungi.


Thanks Melodi and Jurga! That sounds like good information to keep in mind with my IDs.

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You are welcome. But keep in mind that if you know it is a lichen but not much more, it is better to follow @melodi_96 advice and ID it to Lecanoromycetes. Otherwise it will be swamped in unnamed fungal OBs. For example, for Europe I only check Lecanoromycetes (when I have time). It would be too boring to scroll through countless “fungi” or even “sac fungi”. From time to time I check on Arthoniomycetes, but they are generally few.


Glad to hear this from a lichen expert. I dump anything that looks like lichen into Lecanaromycetes and hope that someone more informed can correct me if I’m wrong.

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I try not to be annoyed when I deliberately don’t ID to subspecies based on range and it takes less than ten minutes for somebody to do it for me. There are a lot of turtles picked up in the wild as pets and released hundreds of kilomtres from their collection point. Information on subspecies could be helpful for tracking (or at least quantifying) that sort of thing if people would stop IDing based on assumptions about range.


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