What if nobody IDs your observation?

I’m new to iNaturalist and am not finding it as easy to use as I’d been told. When starting this question I found a thread from Sept '19 which sort of addresses my issue, but not quite.

Maybe I just need an explanation of how it works.

I have posted a few pictures and clicked on “Needs ID”. Some of my pictures have generated some response, even if spare. Several have gotten no attention whatsoever. I wondered if I could go somewhere and say, “ID this, please.” The Sept. '19 thread talks about how this could be problematic.

Here’s the question: do all observations with “need ID” get attention? Do observations get passed by if the plant is boring or commonplace? The plant in question may be a goldenrod (I know there are many types) or it may be something else. Scanning other people’s observations, I see a similar plant tagged as a smartweed, but it doesn’t look anything like what I ‘know’ as smartweed. I’m not very experienced, just enough to doubt others!

It’s not a fascinating plant by any means – my original motivation was to see if I should pull or leave the many volunteers in my yard in early spring. Not a big deal, but I thought I would get some (any) feedback and have not. Thanks.


It looks like you haven’t been adding an initial ID to your observations. This results in them being posted as “Unknown” and seen by few identifiers. If you add a general ID such as Kingdom Plants, you will get faster responses. Most identifiers filter for their area of expertise, so that for example they can focus on identifying birds without seeing all the plants and insects, but this also filters out “Unknown” observations.


The number of needs ID records has gone up a lot recently. In the UK it’s gone from under 200k to more than 300k in the last few months. I’d guess it’d be similar in other places.


As already said if you don’t id yor observation big chances nobody will for a long time, botanists check plants to id, not unknown observations, and if you really want to get a quick responce better to make an effort of adding a general id like “plants” at least.


Adding for what was already said: first and foremost, add initial basic ID: plants, fungi, insects, mammals, spiders, etc. Then you will still need to wait – shorter for birds, longer for plants,very long to indefinite for fungi and some insects. With iNaturalist‘s increasing popularity, there is a huge influx of new users but the number of indentifiers is stable, or sometimes even decreasing – I personally know two qualified IDers who have stopped their iNat activities for several reasons.


One of the other things that can attract identification attention to your records is to add them to a project, particularly a busy project.
Also if you accept iNat’s ID suggestion it is more likely someone will take a look at it. Unknown or Plant or Animal is often missed.


Some organisms wont get identification if the observations do not display the features allowing for id. Also, as said previously, the closer you can get to the proper id on your own, the faster the process goes and in many cases, if the identification is not possible, you will have feedback on what the photo need to show the next time. For botany, if there is no botanist on INaturalist for your region, it may take time.


11 posts were split to a new topic: Don’t use computer vision

It’s frustrating how long it can take to get observations identified, especially plant observations. Hang in there and keep posting. Sooner or later you may get “followers” who will see your observations and will help you. Helping to identify other people’s posts can help encourage people to reciprocate.

Believe me, the failure to identify something isn’t because it’s a boring species! If I take the trouble to search for plants to identify, I’m going to identify all the plants that I can easily identify, and maybe some of the hard ones. “Boring” species are good because I can ID them at a glance.

Goldenrods are a kind of special case. They seem boring because they’re so common in so many places. However, identifying them to species is actually very hard, even if the photos are excellent. I would just skip over goldenrods, even though I’m good at identifying some groups of plants.


I checked your observations. (Looks like a couple of the rest of us did too.) They’re young plants. A person with good local knowledge might be able to identify them, or might not. Try photographing and posting them again in a few weeks when they produce flowers or fruits.


The other thing that makes it hard is sometimes where you are located, as well. I didn’t check your iNat profile, but I know my area gets pretty quiet. Since it’s a citizen project, the only thing that is available to identify things is other citizens, many of which have niches or locale they’re good at. Some are like me and you: we started at a basic level, and sometimes, through using the website/app, we get better.

As a fellow backyard iNater, I can say that Goldenrod can be really difficult to narrow to species, so often it gets left at genus (which is one step from species). Smartweed is a common name applied to a wide variety of plants, which is something I’ve run into as well.

As others have said, sometimes the best thing to do is just label them, even if it’s generic labels. If you have internet access, you should be able to get a pop-up for ‘plantae’ if you put in plant, and the same for animal, insect, fungi, etc.

Looks like you got a few people to look at your observations just by reaching out; I hope things get easier from here. It’s worth the journey! I’ve managed to discover several neat native plants that moved in my backyard that I might’ve pulled if I didn’t know any better.


Quite a few good points made in this thread already. Summarizing and adding a little:

  • Try to add your own best-guess ID to each observation, even if it’s very general (e.g. “Angiospermae / Flowering plants”). The pool of people who actively ID is quite small, with only 4% of iNat users having ever made an identification for another user. By suggesting a high-level ID you can make your observation more likely to attract attention from another user.

  • Give the computer-vision suggestions a try, but balance them against your own knowledge. If computer vision suggests 2 or 3 species that are common in your area and look like a good match, then selecting the genus, family or order that contains them all should be fairly safe. If the suggestions seem wildly divergent, feel free to ignore them and supply the identification you’re most confident with. If you’re adding observations using a phone, these comparisons can be easiest to do later through the web interface.

  • For plants, try to capture flowers, buds or fruit if you can. It’s good to get a few angles and a mix of detailed shots and a view of the whole plant. Choose a flower or other prominent feature as the first image. That’s the one that computer vision uses, and also the one that shows in the thumbnail when people use the Identify interface. If your observation just has leaves and/or shoots, it will take longer to attract an ID, partly because it just requires a lot more knowledge.

  • Do your own research using iNat.

  • At this point you may feel confident enough to suggest a genus- or species-level ID. That increases the chance that someone will come along and confirm your ID or suggest an alternative. But don’t be disheartened if that doesn’t happen.

  • You might notice that someone has identified a whole lot of similar plants in your area, such as @mhough and @rcurtis for Geums in NE Ohio. If you feel you need specialist help, you could always tag someone in a comment on the observation and ask for their assistance. I try to use this sparingly, as quite a few identifiers are working scientists. But in my experience many iNat users are very happy to help where they have knowledge.

  • Even if you don’t get other IDs, add new/improved observations of the same organism if you can: flowers and fruits; more detailed/in-focus views of birds and animals. You’ll build your own knowledge, and each new observation may be the one that connects with the right identifier to crack the case.

Happy observing!


As I continue to do a lot of IDs and become known by my local observers, I find more people seem (mistakenly) to think I work for iNatualist. So it might be worth keeping in mind: all identifiers are fellow users, essentially volunteers. If you live in an area where iNatualist is popular, chances are better identifiers are there too, and that might make the app seem to “work better” or “be easier to use.” If you don’t have local identifiers, or if they are too few, then time to ID might be very slow. The computer vision model learns from human identifiers, so unfortunately there’s also a little bit of a feedback loop wherein areas with too few identifiers also receive less accurate computer vision suggestions.


Two more thing that sometimes help with identification:

  1. Crop your photos. This may save an expert identifier additional clicks.
  2. Add more than one photo from different angles. Many organisms look similar, and a view of particular characteristic might make it possible to make a positive ID.

Your replies to my question have been extraordinarily helpful. I have a much better elemental understanding. Of course it would be helpful to say “plant” or “animal”! I look forward to being a quality contributor. Thanks.


Very helpful. Thank you.


@bbrownbugs Have you tried using the Seek app?

With this app, you are basically taking a live video of the organism and sort of “scrolling” over it from different points of view. As the app gets more information, it IDs it down as far as it can. If it gets far enough, you can then post the Seek observation to iNaturalist.

In essence, Seek is a REALLY helpful, user-friendly precursor observation tool to iNaturalist.

I hope this helps!


I totally appreciate the “boring” stuff as I’m just starting to become more of an identifier. I don’t have much of a scientific background, so those more common species without many (if any) subspecies or variations are what I look for when IDing right now. I won’t even touch stuff like Goldenrod or Lupine because of all the reasons you list!


Dear [bbrownbugs], I have almost same problem as you. I am new in inaturalist as well and I uploaded more than 30 observations with in the short time. however just a few of them get identified. in my case i did all mentioned above. I gave an ID for all observations based on my ability and knowledge. for some specimens I even uploaded genitalia slides or for plants I uploaded photo of flowers or fruits but they did not get identified. for some specimens I even gave the link of the paper that published based on them and I just uploaded them to share their photos (for example immature stages or their activity) but they did not get research grade ID yet. so I was wondered if that they really get discarded? this was odd for me as well.


Not discarded.
Just waiting patiently in the queue for competent people to add another ID