What is the point of Casual Observations?

I’m just curious, what is the point of having casual observations on the site? I can understand about the research-grade observations for wild animals/plants, but aside from helping the computer system (for the Seek app), learn more…?

I’m not trying to be rude, but I am just wondering.



I use them in a personal data sense. I like to use iNaturalist to keep track of what I’ve seen, in a complete way. Sometimes I don’t get photos or “evidence”, so I mark it down just for my own records. And then I can search those later when I need to.


Same for me as @silversea_starsong I use them for any species that I see for the first time but did not get a photo or audio of. That way my life lists are still accurate and complete even though I have been unable to obtain evidence of some species.


First off, great question @bookworm86.

I also agree with @silversea_starsong and @rangertreaty50. Currently I only have a few casual observations but they were significant (to me) in that they occurred in places where there is a slim chance that I will get back to and I did not get a chance to photograph them because of dense foliage and light. I have just returned from a trip where I had an overwhelming (for me) number of observations and although I may have recorded photographically 90% I still wish to note the other 10% that avoided my camera capture. As well, I have observations that I made prior to me recording by camera and they are part of my life list of fauna - I know I saw them, I want a record, I know they are not verifiable (and in this case I’m not concerned), and iNat is the best place for me to record a comprehensive list.

@kueda stated in one post, https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/records-on-inat-that-are-of-no-value-because-theyre-not-identifiable/4062/5, “iNaturalist is a platform for helping to connect people to nature first, and a database second. If iNat caused these people to slow down for a second and pay attention to a non-human organism when they might not have otherwise, then these observations have value.”

In this post he also stated, " the data iNat produces is a byproduct."

My casual observations occur as a result of me connecting to nature.

There are other casual observations where the organisms are not wild. Sometimes this can be the best chance to collect a definitive image. I first chanced on iNaturalist when I was scouring EOL and the Map of Life looking for definitive images to help support my attempts to identify different organisms. I continue to use the images on iNaturalist to define my identifications - if the defining image is that of something not wild, so be it, it may well help me identify something that is wild.

Other instances of casual are when images are not supported by a date or location. I know I have loaded scanned photographs from back in the day and the exact date of observation is unknown - I would be lucky with a year. And sometimes the location is fuzzy - was that in Jasper National Park or Banff? Yet for me these observations are significant because they add to the back story of my own personal journey.

I’m sure I’m missing something.
[edit: I knew it would come to me, I saw a Javan Surili in a certain place, on a certain date, and no photo. At this time there are only 20 obs. of this species. Even though it is not research grade it has research value - someone knows a spot where they can go and possibly have a verifiable sighting.]


I have posted an observation of a rare rhododendron growing in my yard. It is found in only two or three places in China. It won’t show up on any search, but it is there. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/19454191
Who knows someone in China might see this plant in the wild and be able to identify it from the photos I posted!


It does show up on a search but you just have to turn off verifiable. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&subview=grid&taxon_id=752828&verifiable=any

And, as I stated above, this is a definitive observation, casual or not because the image may help someone identify the wild Rhodo.


In some cases a casual observation might be from someone spotting something that they weren’t able to photograph or where they don’t recall the precise date or location in able for it to count as Needs ID/Research Grade.

I’ve taken some photos of plants that I thought might be wild but have had others disagree, stating that they are instead cultivated. Rather than delete the record I find it better to leave it on iNaturalist as proof that the organism is present in that location and may lead to wild offspring with time.

In one case I’ve spotted a pot full of Mazus in front of a home, further down the street was a pot of onions with a couple of Mazus growing at the very edge of the pot in front of another home, and a few more blocks away I’ve found Mazus growing next to a stream. The ‘stream Mazus’ is the only one that counts as wild but knowing about the other two locations serves as a way to track the spread of the plant. (And if the city decides it wants to get rid of the Mazus growing near the stream they might want to know about the cultivated Mazus not too far away …)

Some people also like having a full life list, which means uploading records of cultivated plants and captive animals like those at zoos. Some people may never have the opportunity to see a lion in the wild but, having seen one in the zoo, they would like to have it show up on their life list as a creature they’ve encountered. I recently visited a ‘spider museum’ here in South Korea and saw a species of tarantula that has no photo on iNaturalist. The individual that I saw was clearly captive but if I upload it to iNaturalist I can then add a photo for the species, potentially making future identifications easier. (I have yet to decide what to do with this one.)


I use casual observations in a couple different ways:

  1. To record phenology of cultivated plants. For example, I like records of when daffodils begin to bloom in my area and my time is better served doing things other than looking for ‘wild’ ones outside a garden.
  2. I have recorded specimens I’ve examined at herbaria and/or workshops. For me logging them as casual observations located at the herbarium where I saw them and on the day I saw them makes them very easy to reference. I like to include photos of distinguishing traits as well as relevant notes.
  3. I like to make records of different specimen plants I see in peoples yards. This can be useful as specimens of different species that don’t naturalize in my area, for example the only Torrey pine I’ve seen in town, or if I want to go back and get cuttings during a different season, or if the plant is a host plant to a butterfly I might want to go look for later.
  4. There are some plants that I like to keep tabs on such as areas where mitigation planting of native plants has occurred. Another example is specimens of native plants that have been successfully planted as attractive landscaping that I can tell people about when I recommend plants of these species for their projects.
  5. To keep a record of plants in my own yard so I can look back at a plum tree I grafted, for example; I can see when I grafted it and with what variety after the label falls off or fades away.
    Certainly I could keep many of these records elsewhere but iNat is such an intuitive place to compile them!

Cultivated life often still interacts with wild creatures – bees will pollinate planted garden plants, a pet dog outdoors will scare the squirrels, and invasive plants will spread to wild areas. And it’s still useful data to track, even on its own – tree and plants react to changes in weather and climate, regardless of who put them where, etc.


i sometimes make observations with no media just to record that i saw it and where, and on long highway trips it makes it less awful as i just look out the window and record what i see (and i can document a lot of roadkill but no time for pics, its already gone) but i also have some other reasons for casual IDs:

my pet bugs. i like to make observations of them for reference.
for example, a young millipede just so i have reference for what juveniles of the species look like, a baby millipede whos birth and existence i used as proof that a location has two color morphs of a species and not two different species, and some really cool color morphs of a pill bug im breeding to showcase their diversity. all of these are descended from individuals wild caught from my area but i wouldnt feel right not marking them captive, but i think theyre important all the same.

another use of casual observation i have is just to identify a specific tree because i found an insect in it and we needed to be sure of the host


I agree with a lot of the comments - particularly the value to training the algorithm and simply to contributing to helping others potentially recognize something they don’t realize is a cultivated species. As an additional comment, the two highest impact factor scientific publications from 2019 using iNat data were about wild relatives of cultivated plants.
In many cases these could end up as ‘casual’ observations since they are members of cultivated plant families, but the practical value of the observations to science is pretty obvious from the above.
In addition there is often a spectrum that blurs the lines between wild and ‘casual’ (for example ‘volunteer’ seed springing up on farmland which are actually crosses between commercial and wild type genetics).


As far as i know many sites use observations without photos. You can validate those observatios with alogrithmes. And if 10 other people did observe the same organism in the same area it could be valid as well.

1 Like

I just want to see my grandma’s tomatoes. -0- https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/36598988
I also post those that I couldn’t photograph, e.g. I see Rooks in Moscow, where they’re not common, but always from the car, so I just make casual obs. I haven’t posted species that are not on my official list yet, though, like Mistle Trush, hope to see them later and add a valid observation of those.


I‘ve posted several cultivated plants in exotic countries without a good knowledge that they were cultivated - just a mistake that was corrected, but I did not erase these OBs. Now I post cultivated plants or domestic animals (or wild ones but not in their original locality) purposefully for two projects following their rules: Domesticated Biodiversity Project (that is domestic animals and cultivated plants that have been changed much compared to their wild ancestors) and Biodiversity of food markets in the world (cultivated and wild organisms). I find these two projects interesting and with a good purpose.


I don’t really care for the term “casual” and it almost seems to go against iNat’s objective. iNat’s goal is to get people to observe nature, but seems to treat anything cultivated as second class citizens of the natural world. I would consider myself a gardener first who happens to enjoy plants and the creatures the plants attract. Personally, I don’t care if the plant is wild or cultivated and while that data is important, being cultivated shouldn’t rule it out of existence for research purposes. I have plants, that aren’t supposed to grow in my area, but they are and they’re doing very well. How is that data not important to how well a plant adapts to a location?

In addition, the terms blur the lines for me, in ways that I still don’t really comprehend. For example, I have planted banana plants… they’re cultivated. But these bananas readily produce their own pups, which would be wild by iNat’s definitions and for the life of me, that makes no sense. In black and white terms, I understand, but I just don’t look at nature and gardening in black and white.


Some of us old-school types have kept hand-written field notes for many years. I have field note books that go back to the 1970s. Lots of observations buried in there that are not easy to relocate. Although I don’t do it much, I’ll occasionally post a Casual record without photo on iNat to mark an observation that is either of importance to me (so I can find it again) or might be of some value to others (e.g., a rare bird observation from the past).


I totally agree. I think the “Research Grade” classification or not should be independent of whether an organism is wild or captive/cultivated or occurs in the gray area between those two (ecological restorations and reintroductions, especially). Research Grade observations should have time, date, location, at least 2 ID confirmations, and not be people. Basically, it should indicate data quality, not data type.


This thread answers a question I had but hadn’t pursued: How can I keep a list of all my undocumented observations? I was wondering if I added them but then marked them as private if they’d show up correctly in my lists. I’ll consider just uploading them as not having evidence (or correct time, date, or location, too) instead. Is there a template for the csv file to upload? I couldn’t find anything with the required field headers and order.

I don’t know how to upload in bulk, but if you do “uploads” without photo or sound, as far as I know they will automatically become casual without your having to mark extra fields.

I’ve been recording all my recent black bear sightings, although I’m never going to be taking a photo. Very handy that they are there for my reference but not “bothering” anyone.

1 Like

I agree. “Casual” seems to imply a value judgment, especially when contrasted with “Research Grade”.

They should just be called what they are: Captive/Cultivated.

I know that’s a lot to fit on the little flag icon (maybe “non-wild” would fit?), but it would be better semanticly than what it is now.