State of matter Life limbo

A few days ago I decided to take a look at some observations that are unknown to see if I could help move it to a taxon level where others may have an interest in IDing to genus level. However, in the Filters, rather than selecting the ? symbol under categories I left categories untouched and under Description / Tags I put unknown. Among the obvious was a category labeled State of matter Life which I now understand as being comparable to Flowering Plants = Plants, Flowering - that is State of matter Life = Life, State of Matter.

It is an interesting browse through this as there are observations that have been suggested as both Plants and Fungi or they are suggested as different Phyllums. Also interesting here is conflicting Genuses with the same name but one being a plant and the other being an insect.

Other instances are when the photo in no way has a bird/insect/lizard as suggested by the original observer and only has plants no matter how carefully one looks. My thought is that the wrong photo was associated with the observation.

Unfortunately, when something becomes State of matter Life, I believe it falls off the radar for most IDing. As well, it takes some effort to move it back to a watched level of taxon.

There are quite a few observation in this state of limbo, sometimes occurring with what appears to be novice accounts where the likely newcomer may not know how to pursue getting their observation to a taxon level that is more likely to receive a definitive identification through community suggested IDs.

Is anyone else familiar with this? Thoughts?


You can hack filtering such obs in Identify using
but you’re correct that the rank filters don’t include the root of the tree (State of Matter Life)


I’m not overly concerned with the root of the tree not being included in the rank filters - Mom told me too many times “you can’t have everything” :wink:.

I’m more wondering if people are aware that observations such as a plant with an insect on it can have suggested IDs that result in a rank of “state of matter” which can seem to cause that observation to fall off the grid.

As well, it would seem that un-careful selection of bot suggestion or poor entry of desired suggestion results in a sentence to limbo.

Is there tracking of these observations as to method of input? App vs Web site? Bot suggestion vs manual input?

With some of the photos what is the likelyhood of the wrong photo being uploaded?


The same genus name can be used for an animal and also for a plant under the separate rules of nomenclature for these two taxa. An example I can think of offhand is Gomphus which is both a clubtail dragonfly and a clubmoss.

I think it is fair enough that there can be conflicting genus names much the same as there are conflicting names everywhere else. The more names, such as Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species, the better - eventually it hones it down to something unique.

I was incorrect in the example I gave. It was a Sac Fungi vs and Insect. In this instance a well known to me identifier had selected Genus Dufourea to further identify the sweat bee that was observed. Unfortunately the Sac Fungus genus Dufourea was chosen accidentally instead of the Sweat Bee genus Dufourea. The resulting rank was State of matter Life. I think that anyone filtering for insects/bees/sweat bees would not see this observation for further definition or to help maintain its rank.

I am more wondering about checks and balance to minimize this limbo - especially for the newcomer.

I think I see what you are trying to say. One possible solution to the specific problem of “homonymy between codes” (e.g. I found a Solenopsis [ant] on a Solenopsis [plant]!) would be to have an automatic “are you sure”-style warning when an ID is entered which involves homonymy between codes. Such cases are few and should be easily detected automatically. Another thing which might be useful against another problem is a recommendation in the Help section (if it isn’t there already, I haven’t checked!) asking uploaders to indicate in some way (either by comment or general scope ID) which organism in the photos is the intended subject of the obs. There always be some uploaders who won’t do that, of course.


@jnstuart @bobmcd @stephen_thorpe Here is a related discussion and Feature Request that may be of interest.


Thanks – looks like it’s already been well discussed.

My current thought is that this “corner of the room” exists and that it needs to be cleaned up from time to time for the gems that may come out of it. I’m not sure if this is common knowledge or not but people who subscribe to certain taxa such as Fungi or Red Alga may want to glean this rank. Currently there are 389 pages that come up with a State of matter Life search. - maybe all things considered that is not so much.

@stephen_thorpe what you are suggesting may be a good idea. But I’m not sure it would be worth the tech time to build such a feature. I spent a good part of last night with Life and many times the origin of the issue is the wrong hemihomonym being chosen as was discussed previously as @jdmore has pointed out.

Some other reasons observations end up at this rank:

  • Life is chosen as the primary suggestion
  • Ambiguous image
  • Joke suggestion
  • Initial selection of completely off-base site generated automatic ID
  • Phyllum opposition such as fungi vs slime molds
  • Placement because of multiple species submitted under one observation
  • Image appears to be “borrowed”
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While we are on the subject of odd things that can happen, I would also point out the the following scenario can also occur, with bad consequences, and maybe you can answer an associated question.

There currently doesn’t seem to be anything to stop an uploader swapping the photo on an obs, after someone else has already IDed it based on the original photo! In theory, this could be used to try to discredit the identifier!

My question is based on something that I have noticed on Twitter. Sometimes I change the order of photos on my observations for various reasons. If I then tweet the obs url, the photo that shows on Twitter is often (always?) the original photo 1, rather than the current photo 1. This suggests that something is keeping track of previous versions, and I wondered if deleted photos are actually saved still?

here is an example:
if you click on the image it will link you to the obs, which has a different photo 1, and I changed the order before tweeting (I’m pretty sure I did, anyway!)

I encountered this sort of thing with Lincoln observations… photo of plant, ID’d as plant, later the microscope pollinator photo gets substituted… ta da… ID mistmatch… wasn’t deliberately meant to happen that way, was more of a misunderstanding of how the “project” was supposed to work… but does illustrate that it can happen. I have been loathe to raise it in the forums though for fear of putting the idea in others minds… maybe we delete our posts and raise it directly with staff?

While I was looking at some observation the choice of the primary suggested ID had nothing to do with image. My first thought was that an ambiguous image led to a computer generated suggestion that was off base and the primary did not review the suggestion but still chose it - possibly due to web connectivity, vision, language, maturity, novice level, etc.

Another curiosity I had while reviewing was: Are Domains used ie. Eukarya, Bacteria, Archaea ?
Possibly one more hurdle before something gets labelled Life and becomes obscur to many. Something ID’d as K.Plant by one and K.Animal by another would still be a Eukarya

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Not Plant vs Animal but still case in point:

I think a draft mode would really help, because in many cases one organism in the photo is chosen by an identifier right after the observation is uploaded, and then the observer adds an ID for an organism that is also in the photo but in another kingdom. The observer’s delay just a bit in adding an ID unnecessarily sends the observation to State of Matter Life. Here’s a Feature Request for a draft mode:

That discussion explains some of the reasons for observations ending up in that rank that I had not considered. A draft mode would seem to resolve that.

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in the end i am skeptical there is any real reason to parse out eukaryots.

This is very helpful–together with the ability to sort by “last updated” it makes it so much easier to get to the ones that may not be too late to save. Thanks!

I think some of it may be a lack of awareness, some of it is the problem of the observer uploading not being the first to identify and the first identifier not following the observation, and in my opinion some of it is just arrogance–so that it appears to mean “I don’t agree with your species identification of insect so I’ll just ID the plant to get rid of it” or “I see you want the plant ID’d, but the gall or rust or virus is so much more interesting to me so I’ll just ID that instead.” (Sometimes in the latter type I have seen three competing kingdoms.)

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In part, I have done just this but more not recognizing the desire of the 1° observer and following a suggested ID that seemed very interesting such as an Invertebrate iridescent virus 31 ( - research and coolness overwhelmed etiquette.

So perhaps with etiquette considered, before changing Phylum or Kingdoms one could try to contact the 1° observer regarding the desired change because once things go in that direction it can take a few suggested IDs to bring the observation back to the 1°’s desired outcome. Is this reasonable?

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When I encounter a situation like this (after confirming the observer’s intended ID if I can), I usually message the observer about how totally cool and significant this other organism is that was included in their photo(s), and ask if they would be willing to create a duplicate observation for that other organism, and then tag me so I can come back and identify it for them. (If they seem new, I might include the steps for creating a duplicate.)

Bottom line, no need to tussle over which organism to identify in a single observation, just encourage the user to use the same image (or crop thereof) in another observation.