Why do some of my observations get identified as something that looks completely different than the comparison photos?

I am someone who likes to watch and photograph nature, but not knowledgeable about taxons etc. People have been identifying some of my observations as something that is very different from the photos in other observations. I know that there are different life stages, and different colours between sexes but the observations that I am wondering about seem that the differences go beyond that. This is happening with lizards, spiders, grasshoppers, and beetles, so maybe it is common for some ID’s to have wide variations in colours and anatomy but still be the same ID? I just want to be certain that my observations are properly identified.

Nice photos you are posting! Valuable records for iNaturalist. I do not know the animals you post (I study mostly plants) but I looked for signs of problems. One person who gives different identifications seems to have a good record on iNaturalist. Two organisms that I looked up look like the new name might be right. Of course, maybe they are not! I would say, be patient and see what names other people add to your observations. Sometimes it may take several tries for an agreement to be reached.

Also, you can tag people who are on the leaderboards for these taxa and ask what they think about the names.


Many new naturalists are surprised by how much the key features for identification vary among different groups of living things. For some (e.g., some birds) location plus overall color and shape are often enough for ID. For others, you have to count the ridges on the third oblong plondit above the node of the rear clugamop, or decide if the distal whatapuffin is broader than it is wide, or deeper than it is high. Event those rare users who have identified hundreds of thousands of observations generally specialize in one major group, because there is more to know than anyone does. But one corollary of all this is that things that look quite different (to those who don’t know what the key features are) can actually be very closely related. You and I might look at two sedges and say “They are different in color, size, habitat, and growth form,” but @sedgequeen might look at them and say, “oh, those are both Carex nudata.” One useful way to learn is to ask identifiers if they can please explain how they made an ID.


Thank you for the kind words! Unfortunately for many observations there is only one or two other observations, so I have little to go on. I try to read more about the people who are identifying my observations, there are a handful of people who ID most of them but I don’t know them or their credentials well enough to be confident.

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Thank you for the reply. I understand. It would be great if iNaturalist had a few basic courses to get people like me up to speed as far as the the naming of living things goes. It would add lots of value for me to be learning more and more with each observation.

I often click the compare button, find the correct ID, but then have to copy the latin name into Google to search for information, and often do not find anything except that it is included in a list of other names within a monthly publication. It would be great if there were links to real information built in to iNaturalist. Am I missing something?


For many species, this kind of information just doesn’t exist unfortunately. For a lot of esoteric invertebrates in particular, basically nothing is known about their ecology, behaviour etc. There are plenty of species that were collected once a hundred or more years ago, described, and then only seen again a handful of times, or sometimes never.


Thanks for commenting. That makes sense. It is unfortunate indeed. I suppose that the less specific you get the more information becomes available.


@ geeseinflight There’s a logical error in the thread title. Nothing can be identified as something that looks different from what it’s identified as. Obviously it’s identified exactly as what it’s identified, a tautology. You should edit it to “…get identified as something that looks completely different.” for example.


Great observations from a fascinating part of the world! I wish I could take insect photos like that :)

I went through your hoverflies for you. I can’t add much to what is said above really - it is remarkable both how many different species can look amazingly similar and also just how different two specimens of the same species can look.

A couple of thoughts. 1) Especially because you are observing in quite a remote location it is worth you checking the range maps of species sometimes. I see one of your hoverflies was suggested by the CV to be Epistrophella emarginata, but that only occurs in North America. In that case you could have gone back to Tribe Syrphini or something. The CV tries to screen out non-local organisms but sometimes fails for various reasons, especially where there is not much data local to you.
2) One of your flies has been suggested as Asarkina porcina. This may be correct - I do not know how to determine this species. However I do know that Asarkina is an extremely difficult genus with a large number of species awaiting description. This makes me want to point out that in your part of the world there will be a quite a few things that are on the edge of knowledge (or beyond!), and it may be impossible for anyone to get them to species at the current time. What I want to say is that quality pictures of such creatures are especially valuable - so do not be discouraged if things don’t get to species quickly or easily. You may have taken a picture of something that hasn’t even been described yet! iNat is a resource being built, piece by piece, year by year, to support knowledge that is still developing.


Can we help you without knowing which observations you have in mind? And who ids them? A person or cv as said above?

Not sure how long you have been on iNat? But you will begin to recognise ‘your’ identifiers.
1.Some with a health warning, approach with caution.

2.Some who are are enthusiastic and welcoming with knowledge to offer and share in comments, who will answer your questions - YES, thank you! Those good people will also tag in competent people to help the problem children.

Think of identifiers on iNat as a (virtual and human) field guide. It is ultimately up to you to decide what fits.
3.Some like me with good intentions, who will withdraw wrong IDs and keep nudging those good people (see 2 above)

PS another way for you to find competent identifiers, would be to help ID obs in Okinawa. Then follow your notifications and build your competent network across the iNat world.


Did you ever try to contact an identifier, in cases where you did not understand the ID? Many identifiers are happy to share what they know, if they are asked for it.

That would probably help you understand much better then us poking in the dark, as we do not know what exactly you are talking about.

EDIT: I had a look trhough some of your spider observations (great pics!) and found some disagreemants with your initial IDs… but they all seemed to make sense to me, also I was only able to confirm few of those for now


Not sure anyone has mentioned this, but sometimes people will identify at a higher taxonomic level (e.g. Family or Order) and in such a case, the photo used represent that Family or Order is likely to be a different species than you observed. For example, if you observe a Mallard, and someone identifies it just as “ducks, geese and swans”, the photo will show a Wood Duck. I’ve seen people be confused by that before, because not everyone is familiar with the taxonomic tree of life. In the case of birds, males and females, adults and juveniles often look very different as well.


What does that mean? I don’t understand.

There’re some toxic iders, to put it lightly, often with unique knowledge, not sure who @dianastuder had in mind, but they certainly exist.


Thanks. I think I understand. She means that toxic people are bad for your (mental) health?

That’s the sarcasm, like a warning sign in a zoo, to not come too close.


You haven’t met any - and that is good. Every one I @mention is a Good People.

But quiet persistence on my part … most of the toxic people have mellowed, smoothed off their rough edges and are now added to my Help Please trusted identifiers. Newbies tread on toes … I didn’t read all those notifications at first, and that ticked them off. My fault, sorry.

iNat network is truly wonderful when you hook into it! My call for help went from Unknown (also to the great Google) straight to subspecies. In. An Hour! Third obs for that ssp.


This is a sign that you’re making some really valuable contributions!
There are many species that have very little information out there, and I’d say documenting those on inaturalist is much more important than the ones you can get a thousand pages of info on just by googling.