Should You Document Common Species with Uncommon Behavior?

I know there has been some talk about flooding iNat with multiple observations of common organisms. What about when those organisms are beyond the expected presentation, especially in behavior? It’s not so hard to document an unusual color (like a melanistic squirrel).
Is behavior of interest to iNat? Like unusual cross-species cooperation? Or an animal that shows symptoms of a neurological disease?


i think so, but i think the best way to document behavior is using video. iNat doesn’t store video natively, but you can put videos on another site, and link to them from iNat.

i find that i personally learn a lot when i’m reviewing video and seeing details i didn’t see in the field or having to guess at or figure out (research) what the animal is trying to do.


Sure, observe away! I really wouldn’t worry about flooding iNat with observations of common species. If you want to observe common species, feel free to do so (within reason). 100’s of mallards a day or every Canada goose in a flock is probably too much, but if you’ve got local geese that you like and want to make observations every few days - totally fine.

I do think that less commonly observed variants of common species, in morphology, behavior, phenology, whatever, are often of interest to many users, so bring them on!


There’s no pressure to include uncommon behavior or appearance if it’s inconvenient or otherwise uninteresting (“should”) but there also shouldn’t be any issue with documenting those behaviors or appearances if users find it interesting. The key thing is to focus on what you enjoy and to stop if it ever starts feeling like a chore.

Similarly, researchers that access iNaturalist data look at a large range of topics and it’s impossible to know what future researchers will wish they had more data about. One example is iNaturalist photos being used in a study about mountain goat coats – Using community photography to investigate phenology: A case study of coat moult in the mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) with missing data – and I’ve had a couple of my photos cited in a Korean research paper on beewolves, with the reference not about the wasps themselves but regarding which flowers they were associated with, which I never would have expected until someone shared the link with me. The color change in Peppered moths (Biston betularia) also comes to mind as something that is much easier to measure with photographic evidence over time – Peppered moth evolution.



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Many observers do use iNat to document behavior. As @pisum notes, some behaviors are easier to document in video rather than with still photos, but often it is possible to document things like interactions between individuals (hunting, courtship, fighting etc.) using a series of photos.

It is a bit more complicated to systematically track different types of behavior because this is not an integral part of an iNat record. The best way to collect observations of a particular behavior are by using observation fields or projects. If you have observed an animal with a behavior that you think is interesting, it may be worthwhile searching these to see if someone has created a relevant project – often this is the case. The thread on favorite projects should give you an idea of the spectrum of themes covered by projects. You can also create your own project if you can’t find one that is suitable.

By the way, it is perfectly fine to repeatedly observe common organisms if you find this meaningful.


Yes! Particularly interactions. You can do this by uploading both individuals/species, and linked them in the comments, or an observation field. This is being done in the Snake Predation Records poject, and some unexpected prey items have turned up : )
This could also be useful for identifying predators of invasive species, or pollinators of invasive plants etc.


How exciting to be cited! Congratulations!

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Thank you! Now that you mention unexpected prey, I do seem to remember a fairly recent observation (in Texas I think?) of a spider eating a crab. Thanks!


Thank you!

Yes, I wouldn’t worry about common species. Just keep it reasonable, as others have said here.

That covers a lot of the questions that have been asked on here. Yes, citizen science is part of iNaturalist’s mission, but after all, we are not any researcher’s unpaid field assistants; we are not under obligations as to what we observe.


Absolutely and here’s an example why. I recently (Zani 2023) published a paper where I described a novel behavior in the lizards I study called the dorsal shield where they rotate their backs toward another lizard as a means of diffusing an unwanted encounter with another species. Previously it had been reported by horned lizards when approached by a predator, but not in the context I observed. In decades of field work, I had seen this behavior exactly once before doing the behavioral observations that were the basis of my study.

Next, because I was identifying a bunch of the same species here on iNat, I noticed at least 4 or 5 instances of the same behavior being used by lizards in the observation. So what was ‘novel’ to science turns out to be something already seen by iNat observers, but I just didn’t see it prior to my own behavioral observations in the field.

Next, because I was identifying other lizards as well, I started to notice the same behavioral display in other species, the value of which it gives me a much better understanding of the taxonomic diversity using this display…it’s not at uncommon. Given how rarely it is observed by one researcher (me), having thousands of observers capturing interesting behavior like this allows for those uncommon, but important behavioral displays to be understood in a broader context.

So, observe away…it helps. It really does.

Zani, P.A. 2023. Contextualized display behavior during natural interactions by Common Side-blotched Lizards (Uta stansburiana, Squamata, Phrynosomatidae). Journal of Herpetology 57:99-106.



What is expected varies from person to person and changes over time but we all have an area of the brain that bring attention to the unusual. That’s why there are a lot of observations of unusual appearance or behaviour of common species already.

I find documenting behaviour, both unusual and representative, an excellent photographic challenge.

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