What do researchers want?

That is, what best serves the community?

Would you rather have dozens of photos of the same critter, or just one or two higher quality images?

What about resolution? Just enough to ID the critter? Or do you want to be able to blow it up to see the critter’s parasites?

We’ve been in this house a few years. Is there an age limit for older observations?

A curious newbee wants to know. Apologies if it’s an FAQ. I’m still getting the hang of this.


None, you can add stuff from as far back as you want.


Another citizen scientist here—I’m glad when the resolution is good enough to see the parasites on the caterpillar :). But as for what researchers want—I’m certain it varies based on whether they are studying the biodiversity of a region verses variation within a species. I think that somewhere on this site there is a list of scientific publications that credit iNaturalist.


Here’s my take.

Would you rather have dozens of photos of the same critter, or just one or two higher quality images?

I think it is best to have a balance of both. With things like fungi, having more pictures lets you see more features of the organism so you can best identify it. Many people take one picture of the top and call it good. I need to be able to see the gills!

What about resolution? Just enough to ID the critter? Or do you want to be able to blow it up to see the critter’s parasites?

A blurry, low res picture is only of little help - but post it anyway! As far as I know, images over a certain size can’t be uploaded, which is why if I am using DSLR photos I downsize them when I export for use on iNat. Again, though, more detail = more better! And if your pictures are not only informative but good looking, researchers may want to use them for publications!

We’ve been in this house a few years. Is there an age limit for older observations?

Post them!! Just make sure they are dated correctly.

Put very simply - any data you share could be helpful to someone. It doesn’t have to be good! Just put it out there!


My two cents on this is that with the help of all the people from iNat posting observations and making ID’s etc, there is gonna be a higher supply of data in a shorter period of time than the researchers would have gathered had they done it by themselves. However the researcher interprets that data is up to the researcher themselves and the focus of their studies.

That means it does help to take as high quality pictures as possible, to allow for positive and accurate ID’s. That way at least the data can be more reliable. I’d recommend for insects to try and take both dorsal and lateral shots, that is, top and side views.

There is no limit for how old observations must be. Historical records can be important to understand say, the changes in distribution of a certain species.


Accuracy is likely appreciated. This is with regards to species identifications, but also location. I understand (and have) obscured or changed locations slightly to hopefully prevent poaching or other negative acts, but the location should be in the ballpark at least. A researcher would probably understand and ask if there was any confusion.

I’ve gotten some pushback to revising RG identifications on here, which is bizarre to me. A species is one species until better information comes along- nothing personal.


Thanks for thinking about the community, and others have provided good answers here. I think it’s also important to think about what you find satisfying and enjoyable. I think most of us non-researchers here want to create solid and useful data for researchers, but using iNat should also be a fulfilling way for you to engage with nature (and other users).

iNat automatically resizes all large images so that the longest edge is no more than 2048 pixels. I usually resize my photos when exporting from my photo editor to meet that size requirement, helps a bit with uploading, but it’s not necessary. 20 mb is the file size limit.

Nope, if you can put an accurate date and location to the photo, feel free to upload it. Here’s a short video interview with iNat stalwart Greg Lasley, who’s uploaded decades-old photos from his archives.


What researchers want is accuracy. Correct location. Correct date. Identifiable photographs.


Agreed, as a researcher who has sometimes used iNat data, the most important thing is accuracy! Location, date, time, and good enough resolution to ID. That will vary a lot for different organisms. Often different views of the same organism can help to ID, but some species are rarely idable from photos (which is fine).

All of that said, all of that is the researcher’s problem! They have to filter out the usable from the non-usable, so (as long as you’re not falsifying anything), post it!

By posting an observation that doesn’t show a key characteristic in enough detail, you can learn what that is so you can snap a pic of it next time! Even if you can’t remember a location accurately enough for one study, it might show a cool behavior or habitat that is useful to someone else. Or it might just be a pretty picture that other people will want to see or a reminder to you of a great day of nature observations. There is plenty of value in observations apart from whether they get used for research or not.


Yep. Any info is better than no info. But the wrong info is much worse than no info.

IMHO, INaturalist is the right place for lower-quality photos (which are not good enough to be added to your social page/personal site/portfolio) - as far as an object is identifiable (which is frequently an aposterior information, as many users upload photos to get ID), location and date are correct - it is fine and useful. Ideally, ID features should be present on photos, so more than one view is usually better.

Good photos are certainly better as more data (age, sex, color variation, etc) can be extracted. Also, some researchers or Wikipedia authors would like to use your photo if the right CC license is applied. But AFAIK this is still a pretty rare case of use.


I can think of a couple users who only upload thumbnail-sized images, and then proceed to make species-level identifications that can’t possibly be verified from such a small photo. That is a good example of how NOT to contribute meaningful data for researchers.


Just a quick note – looks like the link to Greg’s interview didn’t come through. (Or is that my computer playing tricks on me?)

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I agree with pretty much all the advice given above. One thing you’ll learn is that some species require more detail to ID than others and that researchers should reach out to you if they want something extra in the photos. For instance, I study the Euphorbia sect. Anisophyllum and sometimes need photos of the seeds to identify the plant satisfactorily. However, the vast majority of plants (in this group and others) only require a photo of the entire plant to ID.

If there were one general thing I would like to see more of, it is several plants of the same species in observations showing the full range of variability in an area and/or habitat shots with the close-ups of the organisms.


I haven’t been sure whether my photos have been useful. I enjoy taking the photos. And I hope they might help refine the data base. But I just got some of a different coloration of a wildflower, so in the interest of showing variability, I’ll be sure to post that.


Researcher here. If there is one thing to focus on it’s taking a photo with enough information for a positive ID. The most common usage of iNat data only utilizes place and time of observations, so beyond agreement to species there is not much that more detailed images or a higher number of images could do for that.

Could a bunch of photos of an individual be useful ever? Potentially. See the mountain goat project for a good example.

Some colleagues and I have been looking into iNat for plant phenology. If you’re curious about the type of things we think about I suggest one of the final sections of this paper titled “The Potential Information Content of Photographs”.


One very important thing that I haven’t seen any mention of so far is context.

Often there will be a single photo of a flower, or a leaf. It’s really helpful to have context of the entire plant, or at least a major part of it in addition to those more fine scale images.

This is true of many insects, and other animals too. If there is a caterpillar, for example, also try to get a shot of the plant it is on.

Having some of ground or landscape can be helpful as well as many species have particular environmental preferences.

It’s ok if there are other plants and things in the frame, sometimes those are more interesting or important to specific researchers than the primary observation as they may be looking for different things than the casual observer is.


A typical researcher response would be: it depends. In a structured experiment, the sampling would be more systematic and there would be attention paid to bias. For example, if what is wanted is an assessment of the vegetation, you would inventory along transects or you would use quadrats for herbaceous species. This being said, I can see INat being very useful to pick up how species move around with climate change and emerging invasive species.


No age limit at all, some of the ant records on here are museum specimens from the 1920s


In fact, I think the older documentation might be more valuable than current information, provided that you have a provenience for it (time and location). We are doing a great job of collecting information now that we all have a camera on our phone and an app to put it in. But before this there will be gaps where it would be great to fill in the information.


Thanks for posting this question - my son and I are also new here, and wondering about posting our photos from the summer.

I do have another related question - since my son and I often go searching for insects together, we often have photos of the same subject. I assume we can both upload our observation and not have it be considered duplication - I found reference in one forum post to say this was OK, it would be considered 2 observations. Or is it skewing things to have 2 people uploading observations of the same subject ?

On the same tack, what about repeated observations of the same subject? For example, we have resident spiders that we check on regularly, and I love photographing spiders. Or that kereru that seems to be hanging out in our beech tree… Should we limit ourselves to one upload? I guess we don’t always know for sure it’s the same individual…