What should be noted while making observations?

I wonder what’s usually to be noted while making observations. For example, the most common is measuring the length of the subject’s body. But is there anything else that needs to be noted to make my observations more complete for iNat (Eg. Weather data, temperature)?


Weather and temperature aren’t really that important. The main thing is just getting all sorts of angles of the organism, since there’s usually a certain part of it that will be necessary for a species ID, depending on the organism. The length of the organism won’t necessarily help identify it, depending on what it is then the length could have intraspecific variation, for example life stages.


Main thing after capturing orgaism itself is taking notes where it was: which plant, what kind of habitat/soil it was on. I never met with taxa where weather could help majorly. For some insects and arachnids length matters, but it’s not that often.


Any information you note down is entirely up to you! For many of my observations, I have no notes at all, because for those, the important info is already captured in the metadata (coordinates, date/time etc). For others, I may note simple things such as interactions or ecological information (e.g. ‘feeding on species X’, ‘found under bark sheet’), or even just stray thoughts I have (e.g. ‘very surprised to still see this flowering’, ‘specimen probably dead’). Sometimes, I like to write more detailed notes if I feel that information is important (especially if it’s e.g. a plant specimen I’m collecting for a herbarium).

So ultimately, it’s all a case-by-case basis, and you shouldn’t feel pressured to have to always make rigid notes for every observation you upload. If you want to make detailed notes on weather, individual measurements of length, habitat info, etc, that’s completely fine and can be valuable, but equally, don’t feel forced to do this for any or all observations :)


I often find a scale indication helpful. Anything unusual or attention grabbing that is not evident in the photo, eg sometimes colours don’t show in the photo, maybe a holographic effect from hairs on the body that doesn’t translate well into the photo, that sort of thing. Smells, which won’t be evident in the observation… sounds when you don’t have an audio recording… any unusual behaviours eg a mosquito waving it’s legs in a particular fashion:

Ultimately, if you find a feature interesting, and it is not evident in the photo, chances are it could be interesting to others! And there is certainly no harm in recording too much information, whereas too little might be regretted at a latter time!


I’ll add, that for light trapping records weather and temp were often recorded, more for being able to compare results between successive trappings. From an identification point of view, it probably wouldn’t have a lot of relevance!

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Doing birding works you also record speed of wind, amount of clouds, temperature, rain etc. but it mostly shows why you didn’t meet something and doesn’t help in id.


Habitat can be very important, particularly for smaller organisms where the habitat may not be obvious from the photo. Many organisms have very specific habitat requirements, and knowing the habitat can help firm up an id.

Size can be important, depending on the organism. Species within some groups of organisms can look very similar, but grow to different adult sizes. If the photo doesn’t provide exactly the right information required for id, then knowing the organism’s size can help. Where possible and appropriate, putting a rule in the photo can be useful.

If you photograph certain groups regularly, then you should inform yourself on what morphological features are of taxonomic importance and ensure your photos cover those features. Otherwise, photograph as many different features of the subject as you can.

Note any behavior that strikes you as unusual.


It depends on the organism.

For fungi, seeing the underside of the fruiting body can be important in determining ID. Also note where the fruiting body grows - in the ground, on rotting wood, out of dead insects, or on a living plant.

For plants, often it’s:

  • shape/size of leaves
  • top/underside of leaves
  • arrangement of leaves (alternate, pinnate, etc)
  • bark texture
  • reproductive biology (is it a flowering plant, conifer, or spore-bearing plant? Is it wind-pollinated, or is it pollinated by animals? If so, note colour, shape, and location of flowers: bird-pollinated flowers are often tubular and red/orange in colour, insect-pollinated flowers often have powerful scents and are white/blue/orange, bat-pollinated flowers are most often whitish and very large in size, and rodent-pollinated flowers are often non-showy and borne low to the ground)

For birds, the usual is body type (including beak shape), plumage, song, lifestyle, and habitat.

For mammals, most large ones are pretty easy to identify. For antelopes, one can look at coat colour, shape of horns, whether it lives alone, in pairs or in herds, and habitat.
Small mammals are sometimes distinctive as well that helps a lot with ID, e.g. stripes, body/leg proportions, etc.

Often what helps with birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians etc is that two species which may look similar can be identified due to non-overlapping ranges, different habitats, different biology, etc.

So, to conclude the mini-essay, it depends. If you want to check body length/size, often a comparison with your hand or a small object with standardised size like car keys/cigarette lighter/etc in the same photo will suffice.


My students often ask a similar question when they are making observations because one of my requirements for a good observation is for them to add notes.

Ideally they are adding any notes that accomplish any or all of the following:

  1. Adds information that might be useful in identifying the organism that isn’t already present in the picture.
  2. Adds behavioral information that was observed
  3. Adds anything interesting about the organism that peaked your interest
  4. Asks questions about the observation that you are curious about

The goal of the notes should be to get an observer to think about an observation beyond taking a picture and engage in what you are seeing. I use the note sections for the students to get them to take a moment and actually observe the organism.

I personally don’t use the notes all the time (for reasons posted in other’s posts) but I will add notes when I think something is important that isn’t captured in the image.


Welcome to the Forum! Always something interesting to discuss.

As has been mentioned, it depends. A lot of the data necessary are already provided - time, date etc. If a moth is found way out of season, an explanation why, or filling in the Live/Dead (usual reason) annotation can help. For some organisms, their substrate etc. can be important factors in ID. I’ll often just add a comment of interest that helps the context, but really has no effect on the ID. I mainly photograph birds and insects, and there is really not much that a note will do to help identification. Size is best measured in a photo, but often that isn’t possible.

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One observation note that I always thought could be very important and useful, especially, but not only, for plants - an estimation of the size of the patch or the number of individuals. Observation of one or two individuals may or may not indicate a relationship of the species to the location/habitat; but 10,000 individuals probably does.


Welcome to the forum @brendan3! And yes, I agree with you.

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