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).


  • 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

…Nothing above matched? Add ELSE advice from comments below, here; an/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.

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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.