Why are some accounts adding super high level ids to my unknown observations

I’m a relatively new user. I will frequently leave an obs unknown as a marker for me to come back and review it later. But only because I think I can get a better id than I had at the time. For instance, I may know that it’s a willow, but I’m unsure what species. I just discovered this forum and it seems I’m probably doing this wrong. I should id it as a salix but put a todo on it in some other way?

Anyway that’s not really my question. What I don’t understand is why si frequently when I open the app again someone has come through and put the most uselessly high level ids on my unknowns? Why? I mean like they will id the willow as a dicot. Or I’d a rabbit as a mammal? I mean if you’re going to id it, it’s obviously a rabbit. Adding mammal to it doesn’t seem helpful. If you want to be helpful give it a rabbit id right?

What am I missing? What are these people doing? What’s the point here?

Of course it’s helpful, you shouldn’t add observations without any id, people are sorting them for you so experts who only check taxa of their choice will see them, if it’s obvious to be a willow for you, it can be not obvious for someone else, you need to add that id first or not upload before you find its id, but it’s faster to do the first and have an expert id it faster than you as it often happens.


It’s not useless. Power identifiers often only look at a particular order, family, or other taxonomic group, so they’d never see observations without an ID. The people IDing your unknowns are just trying to helpfully nudge your observation in the right direction, where it will be hopefully seen by someone more knowledgeable.

If you really want your observations to remain unidentified, you could leave a comment or note in the description saying as much; however, given the workflow you described, consider just adding a tag (which you can later filter by) for ones you want to come back to.


This is actually covered in the FAQ help page: https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/help#coarse-ids As others have mentioned it make observations searchable by IDers interested in particular groups.


Ok I see, some people are searching for certain sub trees. I didn’t understand that. So that makes it useful and not completely useless.

That being said I’m still having trouble understanding why someone would see a picture of a rabbit. Very very obviously a rabbit. And stop at mammal in their ID. I have a hard time believing that anyone genuinely could id it as a mammal but not a rabbit of some sort.

So what is the rational there? Speed? Are they just trying to blast through unknowns and pop a high level id on?

Why do you think they know which rabbit genus or species it is? People sorting unknowns are usually not a certain taxon experts and may not know mammal orders.


Hi @martin1330 welcome to iNat and to the forum.

One way to look at this is to remember that different people have different workflows. Often it depends on their level of expertise. Many people who are knowledgeable about certain taxa may upload in order to ID later as you do, but many people adding observations without an ID (especially if they are new users) are doing so because they haven’t worked out how to use the site well yet - they don’t know the exact ID and don’t realise that they can add a broad ID. These observations then languish in a sort of limbo where the plant specialists or insect specialists don’t see them because they don’t appear in their searches. The people adding the coarse IDs are performing a sort of triage.

Just seen your reply pop up about rabbits. It might be about speed, or it might be that the person doing it isn’t sure how to distinguish a rabbit from a hare and doesn’t know the name of the closest shared taxon off the top of their head - they’re just trying to shovel it out of unknown as quickly as possible so that someone sees it. As I said above, think of it as triage.


I didn’t say I expect them to identify to genus. I meant I would expect them to identify to at least the order of rabbits and hares. Or if not, at least a rodent.

I mean if you’re going to add an id that is obvious to non experts why such a high level? Why not a lower level but still very obvious to everyone?

So, you want them to add an incorrect rodent id on a rabbit, but not a correct id of mammal? Every id is great and not everyone knows the name of mammal orders, many botanists for example have little idea about names of common animals and vice versa. People from a different part of the world can also have no idea which lookalikes can be found in your area.


are you arguing a hypothetical example?

i’m looking for your observations of mammals, and there’s only one… and it’s tracks in the snow.

i might recognize rabbit tracks, but would i expect everyone to recognize rabbit tracks? no.


Thank you, that makes sense.

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There’s quite few threads and feature requests about how ‘unknowns’ should be handled. Here’s a selection that is far too long to read!!! Personally I tend to advise people not to ID unknowns that have only just been uploaded in order not to tread on the toes of people such as yourself, but people do their best in their own way :)

Coordinating Identification of Unknowns - General - iNaturalist Community Forum

Amount of “Unknown” records is decreasing - General - iNaturalist Community Forum

Identifying taxa just to remove them from “unknown” - General - iNaturalist Community Forum

Does anyone else get bothered by how many observations are marked as “unknown species”? - General - iNaturalist Community Forum

Automatic iNat suggestion for “unknown” observations that reach a certain age - Feature Requests - iNaturalist Community Forum

Hide recently uploaded “unknowns” for 1-2 hours - Feature Requests - iNaturalist Community Forum


The simplest way to avoid a ‘useless broad ID’ on your obs is to upload it with a broad ID yourself.
Then it won’t be in Unknowns for Useless identifiers to triage (as @matthewvosper so graciously put it)


All we can do here on the fourm is make assumptions as the reasoning here. I recommend just writing a comment and asking the person directly in a civil and polite manner. Most people are happy to respond on iNat if they’re asked a polite and reasonable question.


The people who use iNaturalist are very diverse. Some are experts in their field. Some are clueless beginners. They’re probably doing their best, and labeling the photos the best they can. Given some of the misidentifications I’ve seen (and done, maybe), labeling a rabbit as mammal rather than lagomorph is not bad!


I’m not exactly sure if you want no ID suggestions for Unknowns or only want narrower suggestions. If it’s no suggestions until you’ve narrowed it yourself:

  1. Mark it as casual grade temporarily. A much smaller fraction of identifiers looks at these compared to wild observations.
  2. For the identification, type in something like “Please do not Suggest IDs”.
  3. Disabling the auto-sync feature (see: Auto-sync on app) allows editing/identifying before loading into iNat, at least with the Android version.
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As others have already said, it is useful for identifiers to have the “unknowns” presorted so they can focus on e.g. just plants, or just fungi, or whatever their group of preference is, to narrow down the pool of observations that still need IDs.

You can use the identify feature to narrow down to certain levels on the taxonomic tree, e.g. kingdom, class, or family. You can also do that with your own observations by putting in your user name under additional filters. That’s an easy way to find your observations that still need refining IDs or have been kicked back from species level due to a disagreement.

  • Under More Filters, enter your user name
  • Under Rank, set the high and low ranks as desired (e.g. setting low to Family gets you all observations at Family or higher rank, excluding all the ones already at genus or species level)
  • Under Reviewed, choose Any to see all your observations that meet these criteria

You can play with the filters even more, e.g. to get your captive/casual observations included, find the ones that still need annotations etc. As noted above, if you come up with a special tag for observations you want to revisit later after having checked guides/keys, you can also filter for that.

Your comment contains within it the seeds of an explanation of why high level IDs can be good. If someone had IDed your observation as a rodent they would have hobbled it with an incorrect ID that would require several correct IDs in order to get to Research Grade. Rabbits are in Lagomorpha, not Rodentia. A measure of humility about the extent of one’s knowledge is not a bad thing when IDing on iNat.

Getting your observation out of the Unknown pile is helping. I didn’t get that when I first joined iNat either.


Well, think about what the IDer looking at pages and pages of “unknowns” might be thinking. There are a number of reasons I’ve learned about for uploading observations without IDs, the reasonable ones having to do with connection issues. Yours would better be solved with a placeholder or a searchable note if it bothers you to have people narrow your unknowns into smaller bins.

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Welcome to the Forum @martin1330. We are someone who goes through unknowns and puts broad IDs like Dicot. We are building our knowledge by providing initial IDs and then following in our feed as the observation gets more specific. So providing the broad ID contributes to our learning. Also, seeing all the pictures and listening to audio files is entertaining sometimes for us, too.

Yesterday, we saw pages and pages of uploads from one user who uploaded audio files of nocturnal avian flight calls. Each observation said, “Please do not provide an identification of this observation,” and so we did not.