Why Should People Upload Pictures of Common Species

Hi again,

I am just wondering, what is a good reason for folks to upload pictures of common species that they have seen every day? I know for data purposes but I don’t know what else, lol.

For example, you have deer that visit your backyard just about every day.

Sorry if this seems like a newish question.

Thanks for answering.



I think if you search you will find a nearly identical thread from several months ago with lots of discussion.


Perhaps this one? https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/overzealous-observations/6633
It does seem to address your question, @bookworm88.

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Ok, ty!

Let me give you a couple of really detailed case example.

I’m a PhD student studying a specific species of Dragonfly, Hemicordulia Tau. It’s a pretty common dragonfly in the parts of Australia where it is found, so I can imagine for a lot of people it might be a ‘record once, then forget’ species.

I study dragonflies I catch in the wild, so i spend a lot of time out catching them. One day I had an idea - I downloaded all the observations of the species from I Naturalist, and correlated it with local time of day and atmospheric conditions, like temperature. I was able to use this to see patterns in when the species was most commonly found, and was able to target the time I spend catching at times they seemed most common based on iNat observations. As a result of this, i was able to halve the time i spend catching for the same amount of dragonflies, giving me more time to read the literature, run my experiments, or have a life beyond the PhD!

Even though it’s a common species, who knows when and how the data will be useful to someone in the future!


This week I gave a talk (one of many) about iNaturalist to a group of birders. One asked, “Why should people make observations of common species whose distribution is already well known?” I gave a general answer, but specific examples like this are great for making the case. Thanks!


Two examples:
Many common wild species actually are alien where they are observed so it is important to track their distribution. Others, also native, are indicator of the process of habitat homogenization.


They might be common right now, but maybe they weren’t in the past and may not be in the future. Recording them can tell us trends.

Depends what a person notices. I have found a particular moth species extremely common at certain times in my area, but it’s considered rare. No one else has recorded it because a) they live somewhere else, b) they’re not big into moths so they don’t take pics of them, c) it’s quite a small moth, so even people who are quite into moths don’t take pics of it, d) all of the above.

And I’m sure there’s a common lichen here that someone else would pick up where I have missed it because, even though I like lichens, I don’t know much about them and certainly can’t ID them.

It’s all relative. Including ‘commonness’ :-)


I didn’t often put any effort into taking photos of Western Gray Squirrel, which was common in my city. Fortunately, I did take a few because now introduced Eastern Gray Squirrel is replacing it!


Also, I’ve been using iNaturalist to make lists of plants at various places. The lists will be used for mapping on the Oregon Plant Atlas. To be complete, I have to photo the Queen Anne’s Lace and Ribwort Plantain at each location.


Sometimes the most common things are the least well recorded, and that is because people tend to ignore them as “uninteresting”.


I enjoy keeping records of the behavior or patterns of behavior of my “yard” organisms. I make an absurd number of Carolina Wren observations because I hope to one day enjoy looking back and take in the trends associated with times of year, fabulous anecdotal “evidence” and to train my eyes to look beyond the commonness. Watching and recording things we know also helps us notice new things. When we don’t have to be as vigilant for ID field marks we can take in more of the experience either for personal enjoyment or for a larger scientific picture of what we are observing. I used a bird example but I also watch insects and other inverts very closely (especially ones that I can visit and observe over longer life-spans like mantids or spiders) to learn the details of their existences.

I have long been bothered by birders (I’m sure other areas do this too) referring to common species as “junk birds.” Just because something isn’t new and shiny doesn’t mean it lacks interest or value to research.

Another thing I do in observing common species is to take informal abundance data…I came to iNat from ebird so I was used to reporting every individual. I still do this with moths (see any number of my juniper geometers, eusarcas, sunira bicolorago etc.!) which is essentially how I taught myself what is common for my location.

All this being said from a self-centered perspective of course…I enjoy this and it may make me a better land steward, observer and contributor which will inevitably offer some use to research. Whether my individual obs have an acute impact on research is also a subjective question of sorts. Hopefully, the sum total of all the “commons” will yield some impact in the future, even if it’s just fond memories of all the things our species has destroyed.


as others have said, common things don’t always stay common. Where exactly where the chestnut and elm trees growing in the northeastern US? What was the Central Valley of California like 300 years ago? There’s lots we could know but don’t (among other issues there) and that is something I can actually do something about.


As several others have mentioned,
some common species go unnoticed. I hasten to add that this has become a ridiculously severe problem in certain taxa, especially in the “ugly” non-vertebrate non-plants. This leads to a rather surreal scenario where undiscovered low-hanging fruit is everywhere, and one can easily break scientific world records by pulling certain small beetles off garden trees!

They say outer space is the final frontier, but microwasps clearly do not live in the void…


This is an excellent quote and it sums up a lot of our mentalities really well.


With recording common species I land in a weird spot. On one hand, I’m not quite recording some species as much as I should (mostly in birds) but on the other hand I have painted roads green with my pine observations


I personally don’t see this as problematic. (In my opinion) iNaturalist is not for exactly depicting the positions of every living thing on earth; it’s for showing where and when humans encounter them. Your pine map does show where we’d expect to see them–you don’t look at iNat data and conclude that Pinus only grows on roadsides, just that that’s where it’s abundantly spotted.

Besides, in the aggregate across all users and over time, I think lopsided observation tendencies even out. More controlled, precise data can come from projects.

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They are effectively “transects”, albeit very modified compared to their surroundings


As others have mentioned, just because something is common now, doesn’t mean it always will be. Recently, news of a “bird emergency” came out.

“In a new study published Thursday by the National Audubon Society, scientists say that saving hundreds of bird species from extinction by the end of this century is entirely possible—but that without commitment from policymakers to end human-caused global warming, two-thirds of North America’s birds could be gone by 2100.”


There is also the “insect apocalypse” that’s been in the news. The thing is, scientists don’t know how bad it is because of a lack of data, and citizen science efforts can help.

I read another article recently—I couldn’t find it to link it here—that said monitoring common “boring” species like ragweed is important because so many insects depend on them.

Personally, when I go to a new place, I try to document as many species as possible because it gives a picture of species diversity, which is important in judging the health of an ecosystem.


Its like Pokémon- gotta record 'em all! I like to get a few snaps of common organisms just for basic completeness.

Where things aren’t is often as important as where they are. Data gaps can be significant indicators so having a record of the common things in the area helps fill out the profile. A seaside town without seagulls, or a city without pigeons- now wouldn’t that make you wonder why?

Amongst common organisms you can also find interesting abberants. Galahs and corellas are both quite common in my city, but I took a closer look at a flock one day and discovered this hybrid- https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27864060
Check out the Amazing Aberants project- https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/amazing-aberrants