Wiki: An Unknown Identifiers' Tree of Life DRAFT

The Identifier’s Alphabet: A keystroke-based identification approach

Beyond clicking from the CV’s top suggestions, effective IDing at iNat comes down to getting the correct choice to come up into an easily clickable position in the pulldown. List tips below by first letter. Case matters.

If you know the binomial the first 3 letters of both words works (helpful if you are unsure of the exact spelling). LEUcospermum CONocarpodendron. Type leu con . For popular words one, perhaps 2 letters, work.


  • a to Agree (but I am very wary of WHICH ID iNat agrees to)
  • a Animalia
  • a Angiosperms


  • c to Comment


  • l Lepidoptera


  • r Reviewed


  • x Not Wild

Version 3 is above, starting 8/14/23

6/26/23 Revision Title: iNat Identification Onboarding: 20 Questions Game or something DRAFT

Hey kids, want to get your observations id’ed by experts faster than n? Go as far as you can in the question sequence to get a higher chance! or something

  1. Do you think it is Animal (a), Plant (p), Fungus (f) or Other/Not Sure (u)?

If you said Animal:
2) Do you recognize it as Vertebrata (v) and/or chordate? If No, continue. If you don’t know how to tell, Animalia (a) may be your best selection. If yes, (typical categories go here like bird snake turtle salamander fish mammal and chordate or whatever for sharks and such)
3) (invert starts here- use iconic taxa as basis)
n-20 Animalia build out along the easy chunks from Kingdom to wherever

If you said Plantae:
2) Can you recognize a vascular plant Tracheophyta (t) vs a nonvascular plants? If Yes, continue. If you don’t know what that means, Plantae (p) may be your best selection.
3) Do you recognize the plant as nonvascular? If Yes, do your best to put it in a broader category such as (examples). (expertise needed for: how far is reasonable to catch expert eye? what best examples of types like mosses liverworts etc?) If no, continue.
4) A vascular plant may be (coarse category examples next)
n-20 Plantae same idea
Typical broad leaves and flowers = dicots
Grass and flowering bulbs = monocots
(ALL unhelpfully dumped in Just call it Plants by iNat)
Imagine if we took bird buffalo and beetle and dumped them all in Animal?!

If you said Fungi:
2-20 Fungi same idea
Lichen - if you recognise it - Lecanoromycetes

If you said Other/Not sure:
2-20 Other/Not sure perhaps keyed to representative traditional projects re slime mold, beach stuff, Life, microscopy etc), maybe show representative projects’ view in modal as illustrations
ELSE part would be illustrated by JP’s DQA projects

-what are those letters
-why common and latin names mixed together in the tree- it’s about remembering the letters
-how to use those letters on mobile and ignore the CVs if you have to
-why 20?

Pre-6/26/23 and/or scratchpad-mode material is below:

Working title: Wiki: An Unknown Identifiers’ Tree of Life DRAFT
Recent publications (PLOS Biology, New York Times) have highlighted the value of helping to make identifications of observations at iNaturalist. Identification of “Unknowns” - observations created without a starter identification- is accessible to all levels of expertise, even novice. Any level of input can help an unlabeled observation reach the view of an expert who may recognize it.

Additional wikis that outline easy entry points to help are here and here. Discussion of the topic of Unknown identification occurs regularly on this forum (newer example 1, newer example 2, older example).

When ready, general observers should also be able to use this scheme to select a best-bet broad category for their “unknown” observations, if they are not confident with the offered Computer Vision suggestions.


  • Turn the above storyboard/sketch into a real, novice-usable tree/framework/key, through whatever consensus format develops within this wiki.
  • It should be useful at a general whole-world level, for identifiers from anywhere who are focusing on anywhere they choose.
  • It should stay coarse in its presentation of any taxon, to about Order/Family perhaps, with pointers to relevant and/or finer tutorials/keys added in as links to elsewhere. e.g., link to the ones at , and see also
  • It should not require the use of the AI at any step. Our native intelligence should be enough.

Scope of tree: If we’re drafting an accessible tree, that means focusing mostly on land-based, macroscopic life forms. A lot of water-based and microscopic id’ing would be out of reach for novices.

(keying stuff goes here) An iNat version of “Animal, vegetable or mineral?” include keyboard shortcuts and other id workshop stuff where applicable

How about with gamification and keystrokes-oriented? Primary links to identify modal? Like, “20 Questions” ID Game: Can you find your best ID in 20 questions or less? Create separate Q2-20 for each of the 4 items in Q1?

  1. Do you think it is Animal (a), Plant (p), Fungus (f) or Other/Not Sure (u)?

2-20 Animal build out along the easy chunks from Kingdom to wherever
2-20 Plant same idea
2-20 Fungi same idea
2-20 Other/Not sure (examples go where/how re slime mold, beach stuff, Life, microscopy etc)

…Nothing above matched? Add ELSE advice from comments below, here; and/or advise to mark DQA: Evidence? No

As more new people use this tree, it will probably need a supplementary FAQ/wiki where we gather the knowledgebase of tips/current consensus for issues typically encountered by Unknown/coarse id’ers. Right now that is all spread around the forum in various threads (examples above pic)


Do you want to consider a final ELSE clause in your tree? What if it’s none of the above, not life. A rock. Garbage. A cloud.


Thankfully, garbage can be IDed as human activity, unless there’s some fungi or something else growing on it.

Rocks are harder, unless they’re a fossil or some such. Clouds, even harder.

I remember there being a number of observations in my area back when the solar eclipse happened. A cool event, and a neat side addition, but something iNat isn’t built for, so I was never sure what to tag those things.




I tried to put one together myself, a while back. Not sure if this fits with your vision and could be integrated/referenced:

Some of the edge cases (e.g. lichen, slimes, parasitic plants, sessile or dormant animals, pathogens, etc) can be tough to get clarity on with any macro set of observations.


As life, then mark as no evidence.


Having been tagged, I’ll share these again:

They’re meant to work like a field guide or with a process-of-elimination approach. Just some notes, but maybe could be a helpful starting point for others.


Those can be tipped to Casual by marking them “no evidence of organism.” Before doing this for rocks, things like crustose lichens should be considered. Some can look like they’re part of the rock to a layperson.


I recently visited with a friend who is a more typical app-only user, who reports having many similar friends. As a web-centric power user interacting daily with same, I got a really eye opening perspective on general id’ing and onboarding through the app. If not going with the CV suggestions for one’s observation in-app, the id hurdle can be high.

My sense was we need the same kind of id-key tree that would help an Unknown (likely web-based) identifier per this draft. It can also cast more toward mobile users who can maybe share a simple link among themselves where you don’t have to go to a big old website for help. So that when they’re trying to ID their own obs in the app, they have an easy reference for taking a best alternate route to an expert’s eye, vs just going with a CV choice.

So, now I’m motivated to start building the key up above, but with an eye toward both groups of folks. It could look weird up above for a bit, reorg in progress.


An example:

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Kingdom disagreement later - where you have to explain that Fungi are no longer plants, but have their own kingdom.

On the seashore, the seaweed - is not a taxon level.
Red and green are plants.
Brown is yet another kingdom!

One of the apps doesn’t see notifications - to respond to questions, or withdraw or change your ID please.

I would veer towards - if you have No Idea - leave it Unknown. Someone will work thru those.

When people carefully leave the species name as placeholder, or a note - why don’t they add the ID? If not while out hiking, then later when they have internet?

Wherever possible, advice could take what might be obviously observable features and tell people what that says about the classifications.

WOOD: Woody plants are definitely vascular plants, so at least Tracheophyta, but check flowers, fruit and leaves, if present. (Maybe talk about stems, too)

FLOWERS or FRUITS: Angiosperm, but look at leaves, if present, to determine monocot or dicot.

LEAVES: Needles or scales? Then Conifer. Monocot or dicot could be explained. Looking at leaves, if you see branching veins, dicot. Parallel veins, monocot. Grassy? Then Poales (Grasses, sedges, rushes, etc.)

It won’t take people to family, but at least better than Plantae.

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