Over the past few months, I have noticed a growing trend of default taxon photos being set for vertebrates that only show their head. I was just curious to know how others feel about this portrayal, because attempts to set new default photos are reverted back to the photo of their head.
I’m admittedly partial towards photos that show the whole animal in the frame, but I’m curious to know how other users feel.
My thoughts are this:
Taxon photos are used to help users recognize and identify the species they see in the field. In this way they serve a similar purpose to illustrations in a field guide. According to policy, the best default taxon photos have key diagnostic features visible and are visually “attractive” (because they are used throughout the website, mobile apps, and Seek). Additional photos could highlight morphs and other life stages, but the default photo - the first photo - will oftentimes be the only image that users will look at when attributing an ID to their observation. It is important to show as much of the subject as possible within that default photo.
For animals, the best default photo features the animal’s whole body within the frame. For closely related taxa, subtle physical characteristics are the only ways - or at least the best way - to tell certain species apart. This is even more important for related taxa that are sympatric (e.g. ocelot and margay; white-footed mouse and deer mouse; white-tailed deer and mule deer). It also creates a good reference that IDers can cite if correcting an ID, to make sure the user who uploaded the observation would be less likely to make the same mistake again. While photos that only show the animal’s head may look nice, they do not provide the same benefits that a full shot of the animal may.
The great egret serves a good example of why a head profile does not make the best default photo.
This species has a cosmopolitan distribution and is very common. It is sympatric with many other common species within its family that bare a very similar superficial resemblance, including the great blue heron (which has a white morph found in Florida), the cattle egret, and the snowy egret. Observations are often mistakenly attributed to these species. These taxa are best distinguished via the coloration of their bills and the color of their feet and legs. The latter are often considered the best way to distinguish these species because an observer can make out the color of the bird’s legs and feet from a decent distance.
The great egret is also sympatric with more distantly-related cranes and storks, which can be best distinguished by looking at the animals in flight. As a heron, the great egret folds its neck in an “s-shape” when in flight, whereas cranes and storks hold their necks straight.
The headshot currently set as the default of this taxon does not highlight the legs of the animal, so it is not beneficial for users as it could be. A photo that shows the animal’s legs and feet, potentially in flight, would best highlight the necessary features for identifying this species.
EDIT: As pointed out below, the springbok and Thompson’s gazelle are not sympatric, so the example was removed.