Surprising things you have learned on iNaturalist / the forum

What are some things you specifically learned on iNaturalist (or the forum) that have surprised you or maybe that you found interesting enough that you turned to someone less naturalist-y (I made that up) and shared?

Here are some of mine:

  • Square trees
  • Photographs of flies’ nether regions are helpful in identification
  • That squirrels in Russia are ridiculously adorable

The main one for me is I learned there are a lot of super-nerdy nature enthusiasts out there, much nerdier than me. And I’ve made a career of nature study.


I never knew how actively taxonomy was changing! I thought stuff like genus and species and even family were set in stone… the new genus Nannopterum (or at least the addition of N. auritum/“P. auritis”) is a good example.


I’ve learned that I can see rare animals in my garden that I never knew existed, like the wedge-shaped beetle that wasn’t recorded in Albuquerque since 1921, the parasitic wasp subfamily with no living photos online (Microtypus), and dozens of moths with no prior state records. I’ve learned that biodiversity is EVERYWHERE and cities don’t have to be inhospitable for wildlife, if we put in the effort to create and protect habitat.


One of the first things I realised when I joined iNaturalist was that the grey squirrels and the black squirrels I had been seeing my whole life were actually the same species! I was utterly flabbergasted!


After being obsessed with animals my whole life, I’ve learned that I can also get really excited about plants, fungi, and all the things that make spots, bumps, crusts, etc. on them.


This is the most surprising thing I’ve learned as well. I’ve been astounded by the diversity in my own yard, in a very suburban, developed area. My property is quite small (less than 1/8 of an acre) but the biodiversity I’ve seen and documented is impressive. It’s opened my eyes to what’s out there if we really learn to see. While I’ve done a lot of work in my yard with planting natives, taking out lawn, removing invasives, it doesn’t have to take as much work as I’ve done to make spaces like mine attractive to wildlife.


An appreciation for mutated plants?


One of the more surprising things I learned was that there are actually a number of species options for things like green lacewings that I had always lumped together as one in my mind. That makes a quick, narrow ID harder than expected.


Tell us all about it in this thread


The first thing that blew my mind was the sheer amount of observations worldwide. There are so many app users contributing that you’d be hard pressed to pick a random spot on the globe and NOT find something close by. I wish I found iNat sooner.


That poppy is beautiful, so graceful. Wow. Thank you, I never would have seen it!

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Sometimes I think about how wild it is there are so many species and sometimes even genuses (geni?) for lookalikes but dogs and cats are just… Canis familiaris and Felis catus.


genera :)


Literally just about everything I know about taxonomy, flora and fauna, and any other relevant topic has been from iNaturalist or the forum. I was a frickin’ dummy with a lot of this stuff even just a couple years ago. Still am sometimes but definitely less of one.


One thing I love to share is that iNat truely is used for real science. I remember being thrilled to see my name as a contributor in a dataset I pulled for a university assignment.


Three years ago I got hooked looking for plant galls, thanks to folks on iNat who could identify them. And while trying to identify the galls, I also learned about the existence of leafminers through iNaturalist. Two very large game changers in what I pay attention to now when I am outdoors. I get some odd looks when I try to explain to a non-naturalist what a gall or leafminer is :)


The fact that there’s a virus that turns isopods blue was completely shocking to me!


One thing that iNat has done for me, which I didn’t fully realize until just now, is that it’s made identification possible for organisms that I never paid much attention to in the past, largely because I lacked the necessary field guides or access to specialists. In the past, if I found some strange insect in the field, I might find it interesting but, as I had no easy way to figure out what it was, I’d skip over it and focus on the organisms I could ID. Now I make the effort to photo those unknowns (if possible) and I know where I can get an answer. Those who didn’t grow up in the pre-internet days – when cameras used film and field guides were all paper – may not appreciate how revolutionary that is.


I always heard about how many undescribed species there were thought to be, but I assumed they were all in difficult-to-get-to tropical places. Then I got into galls, and now I see undescribed species literally every time I step outside my own door.

Like this pretty little thing @dlevitis and I saw just the other day, which currently only goes by the name “Unknown q-douglasii-flange-gall”: