What types of ID work to focus on?

Over time I’ve IDed a lot of Diptera on iNaturalist. I don’t know how busy I’ll be in the future but for now I have some time. Recently I’ve been making some guides for others to make IDs (https://sites.google.com/view/flyguide), in addition to making IDs myself.

Would observers prefer if I focused more on adding identifications for the rare species that might add more interest, or on the comparatively common species that make up a larger fraction of total observations? If the former, I’ll end up making fewer IDs overall.

Another question is if it’s better to spend more time making guides (because often there aren’t accessible resources to know how to recognize Diptera species) that others can use to make IDs, or to mostly make IDs myself? I’ve gone back and forth on this question; how do others see it?

I imagine that other identifiers have similar questions, so I’m looking forward to learning more from you all.


Probably a compilation of both, if you feel you need to write now - do it, if you id something maybe leave comments on how to id it. Same for species, I personally prefer when iders go through all obs from one place then another one, that way both common and rare stuff is ided and nothing is gone unnoticed. Iding old observations is a cool thing too.


My take - in order -

  1. Guides are great ! The link you added looks really useful, I can see myself using it.
    So many existing Diptera resources are scattered or with terminology so inaccessible its really offputting for newcomers. The more support there is in this area, the more people are likely to ID and observe Diptera. So I can see this as having a more exponential impact - especially for families or locations without active expertise or guide-books.

  2. Rarer species - helps build the AI, so also more exponential impact…also makes the most of your ability.

  3. Commoner species - seems the least important of the three.


as a fellow dipterist, whenever I’ve looked through fly taxa on here, I’ve found them to be riddled with misidentifications. species-level IDs based on unidentifiably blurry or distant photos being a particular problem.

curation is what’s needed.


The Fly Guide is great!! Diptera species are something that I struggle with (along with a myriad of other tiny mysteries) and I am excited to use the guide and educate myself in order to better identify my observations, even if it is just to narrow things down a step or two. I also appreciate that you recently made an ID on one of my obs as well, so please feel free to keep that up! :)


Wow! That’s an amazing resource. Thank you!


Thanks for working on Diptera! Few people do. Whatever level of identification you like to do will be highly beneficial.


I’ll put in a second vote for IDing species that have fewer IDs to help the AI out. This can reduce incorrect IDs in the long run I think.

Also, I agree that pointing out when observations aren’t IDable to species can be valuable. I know some folks have comments that they copy/paste on observations to explain these to help speed things up. But I agree that any work on flies is going to be valuable and appreciated!


I focus on Okanagana cicadas but have recently spent an enormous amount of time trying to clean up the backlog of really common eastern cicadas. I think it’s better to focus on rarer taxa to help AI, but somebody has to sort through the common stuff too. There’s also the benefit of adding research grade ID’s to new species for iNat with the rare things. I have several Asilids that were ID’d by experts on Bugguide that have languished here without confirmation because they got lost in the morass (it happens!). I’m lucky in that there are less than 2000 Okanagana so I’ve been able to review every one of them. Not the case for Diptera.

As an identifier I’m kind of tired of dealing with 50 Neotibicen tibicen a day and only 1 Okanagana, and as an observer I’ve really just uploaded things that only have a few records (or mine is the first) to iNaturalist from my holdings on Bugguide. I would rather spend my time refining the Okanagana than the common stuff and do a lot fewer ID’s.

It’s also demoralizing when you know you can never clean up 16000 cicada ID’s.


Well, there’re iders with hunders of thousands of ids, if you will think about how to spend the rest of your life, then iding insects and fungi is what can help you with that!.)


" I personally prefer when iders go through all obs from one place then another one, that way both common and rare stuff is ided and nothing is gone unnoticed. Iding old observations is a cool thing too."

This is how we do the cicadas: one state at a time and ID everything as far as possible. Now we just try and ID what can be done as it comes in. I have other priorities in my main group for my research though shrug. iNaturlist is mostly a scientific resource for me that I try and give back to in kind by doing what I can to help ID things.

I should also amend “clean up” to “get to RG”


Oh wow, those guides make an excellent resource! I’d like to be able to ID flies to finer detail than the few families I know, so hopefully come winter I’ll be able to help chip away at the dipterans.


My two cents.

I try, in general, to ignore correctly IDed groups and focus on IDing species that are ‘infested’ with misidentifications. For example, I’ve been focusing on going through some groups of jumping spiders, where a large portion of the observations are mis-identified. I agree with any ones that are correct while doing so, and also work on local misidentifications (like my home state, for instance).

This also means I am missing, perhaps, misidentifications of rarer species, but these are way less common because there are some (many?) observations months old of an actually quite uncommon species, labelled as a common species. Also, I’ll probably be able to work through them in the winter. These common, iNat-suggested (AI) species are really over-zealously IDed, especially in groups where a lot of species look very similar.

If you are IDing in a certain taxon, you’re probably trying to root out the misIDs. And finding the heart of those will be the easiest way to correct these. The rarer species of course, should be looked at, but if you’re aiming for fixing misidentifications that will be the fastest way to go.

Making guides is a great way to help people identify things better. I have made a few for the SANBI community, and am working on others. :-)


Hi, a bit off topic. The site you’ve shared looks like nice place to start for a beginner. Curious if you are aware of a similar resource for India or an international resource that might be a good place to go to work through the basics or common species and move to complex ones for Indian Diptera. thanks.


Beginner or not, Diptera.info is where dipterologists belong to.
Plus Nematocera families key.


I’ve found this site to be rather helpful for learning general identification tips for the various families:

(Click on one of the three antenna types to get started…)


Just wanted to say thank you for the Diptera guide! Will definately be referencing it in the future.


First, when you do ID something, it is helpful to leave a comment explaining how you came to the ID, even if it’s just a link and/or a small quip - it’s quite helpful to those trying to get better. Linking to that flyguide would be useful, for instance. That, plus a comment in the right direction can teach others how to better ID Diptera species.

However, I’m speaking as a newbie on many fronts here, but that might be useful. When starting with a new thing that I’ve never tried to identify before, I’m often going off of the algorithmic recommendations and if not that, then based on properly identified photos of other users. And many Diptera genuses don’t even have a single observation on iNat to work from. One fly that I observed a couple times (and interacted with many times while hiking) seems to be a Mycetophilidae both according to your guide & the iNat recommendation. But on iNat there are ~77 genuses listed, but ~52 have 0 observations associated. And then if I go into the Mycetophila genus that seems maybe probable based on a photo… well, only 13 of the 110 species have an observation.

Another observation that I just uploaded was for a horsefly - the genus seems to be Hybomitra, but going deeper is impractical, even after following the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification guide for Hybomitra, I don’t feel certain about the species. And of the 78 species listed on iNat, only half (39) have an associated observation. That isn’t much to work from.

So it somehow you were able to ID examples of species that currently don’t resolve beyond a genus, that would in my mind be very helpful.


Please don’t id flies from photos, some can be ided to species level that way, some only to genus, some only to the family level, and without you knowing the whole family it’s impossible to know if it’s a right or wrong id.
Mycetophilidae are incredibly hard to id, for most of them you need tons of photos to id it to genus only. So be prepared, 99% of their observations will hardly get to genus if it’s not one charismatic. For iding a subfamily (and lower) better make a good shot of wing venation.
For Tabanidae id a photo of legs bristles may also help, but if this fly were found where I live it would be ided as Hybomitra, don’t know if Canada has similar genuses.

Such statements don’t align with the stated goals of iNat. Perfect identification of various species isn’t on the list.

Moreover, iNaturalist is one of many places where people ID insects from photos. It might be a bit messy, but others using the data should rightly expect crowd-sourced data to be imperfect.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.