Why ID as Life When More Narrow Category Applies to All Photos?

I have noticed quite a few observations that have photos of more than one species, and people are identifying them as “Life” even though the species all have something in common. The latest example I saw was of three flowering plants. I don’t understand why people aren’t identifying them as flowering plants. I couldn’t find another forum topic about this, and I would like to understand the reasoning.

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I think some people just do this because they are moving quickly or because they may not know immediately what the lowest level is and just want to move on from an observation that likely will be in limbo forever. But I agree, I think best practice is to ID to the lowest common taxonomic level shared by all the observations.


I think there was a thread a while back that suggested a possible workflow for multi species observations.

  • 1st identifier comments with instructions on how to fix and does not add an ID.
  • 2nd identifier adds State of Matter Life. This puts it into the “Something” category that is monitored by identifiers that do a high volume of Unknowns.
  • 3rd identifier adds the ID for a most specific common taxon (eg flowering plants) and marks observation “as good as it can be”. That moves it to casual with the most specific possible ID.

Ideally there is time passing between each of these steps so that the observer has multiple opportunities to make a correction.

I like to add a comment on multi species observations that says “please comment if you split these pictures into different observations, so I can correct my ID.” If the correction is made, identifiers are not automatically notified without a comment or subsequent ID.


I found taxon pictures for ‘rose’ which included a daisy and a lily. Backtrack to the obs and it is multiple species. If you ID as iNat says - broadest category that fits ALL the species. The second identifier, has a a quick look at the first picture. Rose? And you are back to random taxon pictures.

Life + life (and Good as can be) = Casual takes it out of Needs ID until (if ever!) the observer responds.

It isn’t of any practical use to identify multiple species. Often ranges across multiple kingdoms, which makes the random ID for the first picture even more pointless.


I always thought that it would be a good idea for people to be able to find all the flowering plants, for example, even if the observation was never fixed. But I understand better now why this is happening, so thank you.


Flowering plants (me too) in California for you
31 thousand waiting
Even for you in CA with lots of identifiers there is an exploding backlog.


So true . . . .


I used to try to figure out the common category, but stopped bothering unless it’s genus-level.

  1. because “flowering plants” is really no more useful to anyone than “life” - the observer doubtless already knows they photographed flowers, and there aren’t many locations without flowering plants, so it’s not providing useful info to anyone else
  2. I’ve noticed many of the users who add multi-species observations continue to add photos after the ID. I’ve identified for “plants” only to stumble across the same observation months later and find it now has a horse, 2 dogs, a couple of blurry landscape photos and a shot of the back of someone’s head. Since there is no notification when users add or remove photos, I won’t know about it unless someone else identifies or comments on it.
  3. It’s much slower to go through and try to triangulate the common ancestor - you have to ID all the organisms to figure out the common one, and those efforts would probably be better spent on single-organism observations
  4. More precise IDs tend to mislead other identifiers into IDing to species - I’ve noticed if I take something from “Unknown” to “plants” it’s far more likely a plant identifier will come along and ID whatever species is in the first photo without noticing the rest. Then I have to go back and disagree, and it turns into a whole mess.

Sometimes identifying as Life is justified. You may have an observation where you don’t know if its a slime mold or a fungi for example.

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I wish I could get back the part of my life I spent doing that, then. But I know now to steer clear!


Well, now that I’ve cleared all the unknowns in my patch. I guess it is time to work on flowering plants.


I began identifying on iNat with Unknowns. It can be rewarding and fun to clear that, learn new species, flag for missing species, catch the ID still in comment / note / placeholder, or harvest the low hanging fruit. :grin: I enjoy!

Then. Shock and horror, I turned my unwilling gaze to Needs ID. And I despair at the mostly broad planty IDs in limbo there - they have also been inadvertently disqualified from CNC since they are in limbo! I have a row of humungous URLs waiting for me, when I have a clone to devote to them.

My learning curve has taught me how to make most effective use of my time and effort. Which includes working with and for my cohort of active and willing identifiers.

  1. Does my ID move this obs to where a taxon specialist can filter for it? If not - leave Unknown, or dump in Casual (if appropriate), mark as Reviewed.

  2. If it looks interesting, but I can’t help, follow or fave depending. And Reviewed, so I only see it again when there is an ID or comment.

  3. It is my time, and my choice. If it’s too blurry, too landscape, too people or dog - mark as reviewed.
    Thousands of next queued up!

  4. Because we don’t have Notification management tools, I UNfollow each obs which has lost my interest.


FYI for those interested, here’s a project intended to help move these types of observations toward their future Casual home, at whatever id level:

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I enjoy IDing as much as I do making observations but am aware I need to be better with my time/energy. I also want my contributions to be helpful and don’t want to kick the can down the road as it were. In that regard, this is solid advice @dianastuder. Thank you.

Out of interest, how exactly does one “dump in casual”?


Why are broad Plantae IDs disqualified from the CNC? Or is that a local CNC preference, like whether to include Casual observations or not?

Oops - no - that is me being free with words. I mean that moving an obs to Plantae where no identifier picks it up, equals it is effectively disqualified, while the Unknowns, and Needs ID which get filtered to taxon specialists, stay in the species contest.

@lm77 it takes 2 identifiers to dump it in casual, two who agree on Life, and one of them to mark it ‘good as can be’ = Casual.

Or you alone can use any of the relevant Data Quality Assessment options that apply. Not wild, or missing date or location etc.


Ah, I see what you mean. I do see my Plantae IDs being improved now and then, but certainly not all of them.

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My mindset for coarse id’s: Even if other people don’t get to them sooner, I can get back to them later after I know more, and meanwhile they’re being presorted a bit. Every bit helps. ;)


I agree. Better Plantae or Animalia or Fungi than Unknown.


I wonder if that’s a regional preference? In my area, it doesn’t seem all unusual for ”Plants” to get refined by IDers later.