Species Thumbnail Image Choices

Apologies if this has been discussed before, but I haven’t found it on the forums.
My question is what is everyone’s philosophy on what makes an ideal thumbnail image for a species. I have two competing ideas in my head that I can see pros and cons to:
-A: An image that shows a particularly beautiful example of the species in excellent condition with the field marks as bold as they come
-B: An image of a more average-looking less-boldly marked specimen that typifies what the average observer will see
Option A shows an extreme example of what to look for in the species, but may be misleading to someone glancing over the CV suggestions if theirs doesn’t look so bold. Option B might make a bunch of the suggestions look really similar because the markings aren’t as clearly different, but perhaps that’s for the best if the species actually are hard to distinguish in most cases.

Here are a couple examples:

Check out how beautifully marked the thumbnail moth is for this species:
But here’s what a typical one looks like:
The thumbnail might lead someone to think “that can’t be my moth, mine doesn’t have that bold pattern”. But usually at least some slight hint of that pattern is showing somewhere on the wings, so I suppose it’s good to have the “extreme example” front and center to know what to look for.

Similarly, here’s the genus page for Acronicta, a genus of almost universally drab gray moths that are often difficult to identify:
The one bright green species is used as the thumbnail. It’s arguably the most aesthetically pleasing member of the genus, and I can see why it would be the best choice for the cover of an Acronicta book or article, but it’s not really representative of the typical Acronicta, which looks more like this:

I don’t really have strong feelings either way on this, but I’ve run into several cases where I suggest an ID, and a newer user replies “but that looks nothing like my specimen”, clearly in reference to the thumbnail image, which, in their defense, does indeed look nothing like their specimen. And I know a lot of users do a quick glance at the images on the CV suggestions and click the best match based entirely on the thumbnail for their initial ID. So the thumbnail does hold a lot of power in what IDs get initially suggested for things. Does anyone have thoughts or strong opinions on this question?


I personally prefer the attractive, perfect version, but you have a good point. (How’s that for wishywashy?)


FWIW there are some guidelines for picking taxon photos, although they don’t address this particular question.

I don’t know if there’s a “right” answer, but I’d probably lean more toward an “average specimen” photo. Even then, what’s “average” for one area might be different for another.

I’d probably use this as a teachable moment to explain that colors and patterns can be variable within a species. It’s definitely something I had to learn when I started naturalizing, and it’s always a good lesson.


i think i prefer an image that gives a good representation of the species. attractive, but also reasonable… so no, not the tallest moose or the burliest bear, but a good shot of an average or above average specimen that offers an opportunity for a clear understanding of what that species looks like.


I’ve wrestled with this before. My two cents: it depends on the taxa. For higher level taxa such as Orders and Families, I like the idea of having “book-cover” species. For Genera and species, I recommend answering the following questions before making a photo a thumbnail: Is it CC-BY? Is the observation verified by experts? Is it a high-quality photo? Does it show one or more diagnostic characteristics? Does it look interesting/pretty? Will it throw off a casual iNaturalist user?

There are definitely other factors to consider, and the decision sequence I use may be suboptimal. I’d love to hear the thoughts of anyone else who helps with photo thumbnails.


A few months ago I edited species thumbnails for a few European moths, I selected high quality thumbnail photos of somewhat pristine moths with the main features needed to identify the moths purely from the photo ( something I frequently do if i’m doubtful with the CV).


I have extensively added photos for lizards of the Amazon using the following prioritization:

  1. first image should be identifiable from the thumbnail meaning cropping is important…usually this is a male in breeding colors in the act of displaying…preferably this should be of the type species if these are for a genus or higher taxon, or from somewhere near the type locality.
  2. because many lizards are sexually dimorphic, the second image is of an adult female.
  3. third is a picture of a common color/pattern variant if present, or a a picture showing a different identifiable feature.
  4. a picture showing something for size reference, usually this is someone holding one, so their hand is the size scale.
  5. a picture showing the animal in its typical habitat, say along a stream or in forest.
  6. another color/pattern variant if they exist.

That’s the same link twice, by the way. I’d be interested to see the example you intended to give.


These two threads have some useful ideas:

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For fungi (let’s say mushrooms), I appreciate the ones with multiple fruiting bodies in the same photo, especially at different angles and at different stages of development. There are many good ones like this that give views of the gills or pores, stipe with base, cap from the top and a side view, annulus and/or other veil remnants, all in one photo. These are obviously deliberately staged by people that know what’s important to show.

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My personal preference for thumbnails in order is as follows:

Living organism in its natural habitat > Living organism in a lab or indoor environment > Dead specimen

I think a better photo should be made a thumbnail over one that is more blurry or “average” because it can highlight those differences that might help make an identification.


I would lean toward Option A because contrast is important. I wouldn’t choose the most striking example there is, but somewhere in between. Another thing to consider is that you also have to be able to recognize the organism just from the thumbnail. Compare these two photos:

The second one isn’t that typical of an example but at least you can easily recognize it as a clam.

When I have to chose a Thumbnail I will go with a photo that shows the distinguishing features best… even if those are not always visible that perfectly in reality. However, it will allow to explain those features and why they might be less pronounced in a certain observation.

I will also chose a good quality, adequately cropped wildlife photo over museum specimen or observations with human body parts in it for the first picture.


so long as the first few taxon pictures each show different useful info.

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