Standard responses to observations that need guidance...

One of the most beautiful things about iNaturalist is the community of naturalists. I was so warmly welcomed into it, and I especially appreciated the folks that provided me with some gentle guidance (except for all the times that @gcwarbler yelled at me for not cropping my images enough – kidding!).

So, I’m going to work on some standard responses that I’ll add onto the comment section of observations and observers that need a bit of guidance. I’ll be referring back to this journal entry frequently to copy and paste these on the specific observation. Please tell me if there are other instances that you notice and what all you say in the comment section. :)

If the observation is of a cultivated plant:

Since this is a cultivated/planted plant, please mark it as cultivated. You can do this by clicking “no” to the question “Is the organism wild/naturalized?” on the data quality assessment. Try your best to observe plants and animals that aren’t cultivated or in captivity. The wild organisms are far more interesting and important to document! :)
If you need some more help, be sure to check out the getting started page:

If the observation is of a captive animal (like a pet or in a zoo):

It doesn’t look like this is a wild animal. You should mark it as captive. You can do this by clicking “no” to the question “Is the organism wild/naturalized?” on the data quality assessment. Try your best to observe plants and animals that aren’t cultivated or in captivity. The wild organisms are far more interesting and important to document! :)
If you need some more help, be sure to check out the getting started page:

If the observation is too blurry/unclear/dark/too far off to make out a specific ID:

It’s hard to tell what this is just by this photo. Next time, try to get a clearer shot . You can also add multiple pictures to an observation that may help with the identification.
If you need some more help, be sure to check out the getting started page:

If the observation has multiple pictures of different species:

An observation on iNaturalist is just for a single species. You have multiple different species in this single observation. You should separate these all out so that each one can be recorded separately. It’s ok if they were all in the same spot – you can use the same location. Please do separate out each image.
If you need some more help, be sure to check out the getting started page:

If the teacher/professor of the class needs to give more guidance (multiple observations from various students that are poor quality):

If you would, please tell your teacher/professor to give some extra guidance on how to use iNaturalist properly. Some of these observations could use some extra help.

He/she should look at all of these observations, give some pointers on the difference between cultivated/captive and wild organisms, and assist with how to properly take pictures for identification.'s+guide

Update -- check this page for other standard responses:

Posted on 09 December, 2016 02:32 by sambiology sambiology


Great idea, Sam! I look forward to other people's comments and I'll chime in later with some other suggestions.

Posted by carrieseltzer over 7 years ago

Excellent responses, Sam. I have dome some similar "cut and paste" comments to post when I find images that have been pirated off the Internet, or a small handful of other issues.

Posted by greglasley over 7 years ago

@carrieseltzer -- you're one of the most welcoming people I know on iNat!!!! You're the best. :) Your Great Nature Project was extraordinarily welcoming to the new users -- it was beautiful! :)

Posted by sambiology over 7 years ago

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Sam.... I do want to sound like PFC Gomer Pyle USMC because I genuinely want to express my appreciation for your efforts.
A recent barrage of additions to the garbage on iNat by a college class was very disturbing. I messaged via iNat the professor of the class with my concerns... He responded that he was working with you to address this problem.

Thank you again, Sam, for the efforts you make on the behalf of iNat. You do go above and beyond.

May I have your permission to cut and paste your responses to these types of observations entered on iNat?

Posted by connlindajo over 7 years ago

What about the observations with no photo or any information? There is nothing but a question mark. Is the administrator allowed to delete those? (I hope!) You might create a comment about how to use the app so that doesn't happen or ask the observer to delete and try again.

Posted by suz over 7 years ago

@connlindajo -- by all means, please do copy and paste any/all of these -- modify them or use them exactly like they are -- I'm good with whatever! :) The more that we inundate those poor observations with this guidance, the greater the end product will be. :)

@suz -- that's another great example that could use guidance -- the observations that have nothing. Unfortunately, I think it's just up to the observer to delete the observation... Admins and curators can flag it as inappropriate or spam, but it's possible that the observer is going to upload an image or information at another time. Nonetheless, it's a case where it would be good to say something... I think this is what I'll say in that example...

If the observation doesn't have a picture or any information:

Were you able to get any sort of data for this observation? A quality observation should have a location and a date, and for it to be verified, it needs either a photo or sound. After all, I could claim to see Sasquatch, but without a photo or sound, no one should believe me! High quality observations on iNaturalist really need to have the correct date, a proper location, and ideally, a photo or sound. If you need some more guidance, be sure to look at the getting started page:

Posted by sambiology over 7 years ago

Thanks for sharing @sambiology

Posted by cullen over 7 years ago

In my newcomer's zeal, I once did a lengthy "how to" on separating a combined record. It probably scared off the poor target, but here it is if you want to mine it for any bits:

Posted by jennformatics over 7 years ago

Sam, this is great! We (the Centennial Data Rangers - @carrieseltzer , @biogeek5, @geobudde, @kellycoy) drafted up some guidance for "Common Issues with Observations" for use by National Park Service (NPS) staff for this year's Centennial bioblitzes. It has some of these cases and a few more (Placeholder name, but no identification, No Photo or Sound, Wrong/No Location, No Date, and Observation has Location, Date, Photo, and IDs, but isn't Research Grade) at

We tried to provide examples of gentle "Sam-style" comments to post along with each issue. :)

Posted by forester93 over 7 years ago

Centennial Data Rangers (@forester93, @carrieseltzer , @biogeek5, @geobudde, @kellycoy):
Thanks for sharing this guide! Great job!
Perhaps with these examples from you and @sambiology my comments and suggestions on less than marginal observations will be more tactful and helpful.

Posted by connlindajo over 7 years ago

Those are some great examples, Simon -- thanks for sharing! Guidance is sooooo dang important. I wish wish wish I could tell all of the teachers/professors/project leaders how important it is. The more we guide, the higher quality data we all get in the process. :)

Also @forester93 hopefully there will be a write-up or party or something for the NPS centennial bioblitz year! TREMENDOUSLY successful. I hope you feel extraordinarily proud of the accomplishment.

Posted by sambiology over 7 years ago

@forester93 I totally forgot about that guidance document! Maybe you should write a journal post for the servicewide project that asks people to offer this kind of guidance on those observations? Do we have one asking people to join the project too? Here's some language I wrote to people individually about joining the project that I just adapted:

Thank you for sharing your observations from our National Parks in 2016! If you click the link below to join the project that aggregates all of the observations this year from the entire National Park Service, then you'll see more easily when we post updates to the project journal, like updates to the species count or requests for help with ID and outreach (like this!). URL/join

Posted by carrieseltzer over 7 years ago

Also tagging @alliepetersen because I think she helped write those, and I know she did a LOT of outreach and iNat guidance, especially for our iNaturalist "Pro-Observers" in DC. Also tagging @grizzlypieper in case he gets a chance to look at more BioBlitz observations from this area :-)

Posted by carrieseltzer over 7 years ago

Thanks to all of you, for pointing out where I can find the guides to pinpoint my observations, and pointers on what to try and capture when observing different plants or creatures. :) I have never had a rude comment, or anyone belittling any of my attempts, and some of them are rather frustrating when I can't get a clear shot, but I feel the animal is worthy of being noted for my area. :) For a novice naturalist, I have to say all of you have inspired me to further my education in the naturalist field (even though I am not a spring chicken anymore) - I just need to narrow down what it is I want to specialize
Again - thank you all for your patience and knowledge, and friendliness!

Posted by artemis224 over 7 years ago

Another problem: Captive/Cultivated observations become casual, and you will never get an ID if you post it. I never mark my observations of pets because nobody will ever confirm it. Thanks!

Posted by danomaha over 7 years ago

I might also say, on the captive/cultivated, that they're not totally useless. Sure, we all know what a tiger looks like; we don't need a bunch of pictures of tigers in zoos. But if something more obscure is hard to get a good shot of in the wild, a captive specimen might be just the way to record and demonstrate important diagnostic characters. If someone's doing a study on where species X lives, then of course they'll exclude the captives; but if they're just trying to figure out what it looks like compared to something else, it may not matter.

So, my suggestion: It doesn’t look like this is a wild [animal/plant], so you should mark it as [captive/cultivated]. You can do this by clicking “no” to the question “Is the organism wild/naturalized?” on the data quality assessment. The concept of iNaturalist is to track where and how wild things live. A few good records of unusual plants or animals can be useful, even if they're captive, because they help people with identifications. In general, though, try to find non-domestic species to report, and mark captive/cultivated records when you submit them. Thanks! [and @dannym: I totally admit that, personally, I often mark something as captive after I've gotten agreement on the ID. 0;-) ]

Posted by jennformatics over 7 years ago

great write up sam!

Posted by loarie over 7 years ago

this is a good idea!

another good one would be 'this doesn't appear to be mapped accurately...'

captive animal observations seem pretty useless for the most part but landscape plants less so. they are used by pollinators and eaten by herbivores; they can spread and become invasive; and their blooming times can still tell us things about climate change. two years ago i marked the first flowering time of a bunch of plants on our land... will be neat ot see how that varies over the year

Posted by charlie over 7 years ago

Just had a chance to use some of your verbiage, edited for the situation. Trying to be encouraging while explaining why I checked "captive/cultivated." Thanks for putting these all together.

Posted by driftlessroots about 7 years ago

Just a heads up to everyone here that @maractwin had started this page of frequently-used comments and I've been adding to it:

It's linked to from the curator guide too, but easier to just bookmark. Feel free to edit if you're a curator obviously, or send me a message with recommended text and I can add to it if you're not.

Posted by bouteloua almost 7 years ago

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! Thanks, Mark and Cassi! I've created a few more that I use a bunch, but they may not be usable for others, so I don't know if they warrant a place on that frequently-used comments page. Oh, and I use smiley face emoticons too much, sorry:

If the observation just has leaves but no flowers/fruits.

With plants, be sure to look for a flower or fruit. The reproductive structures are crucial for the most accurate identification. Granted, sometimes there’s no flower or fruit around – in those cases, I make a mental note to check back on the plant and observe it only when it has a flower or fruit. :)

If the observation is of a person:

Humans are indeed found in this area, but iNaturalist is best used for wild animals and plants. It’s much more fun to go outside and look for weeds and bugs! :) If this is just a test observation, be sure to delete it later on.

If you need some more help, be sure to check out the getting started page:

Go to website to look at data (if part of a group and noticing just using app):

Great observations! Make sure to go to the website ( to look at the data too. That’s how you can interact with the experts, see what other people are observing around you, and look through the various projects that this observation may fit in. The app is JUST a data collector – the website is where the real fun is. :)

Snail but not the right angles for a good ID:

To get a good ID on most snails, you have to get multiple angles - especially the underside with the opening. Remember, you can add multiple images to each observation!

Posted by sambiology almost 7 years ago

Flowers and fruits, who needs those? ; )

Posted by bouteloua almost 7 years ago

yeah, i wouldn't go overboard with the flowers and fruits one. You often don't need them, especially with trees and shrubs. If it's like a grass without any flowers/fruits then sure.

Posted by charlie almost 7 years ago

It's my herbarium training -- if a specimen doesn't have those, it's not a valid specimen. ;) I just can't unlearn what I've learned, I guess!

Posted by sambiology almost 7 years ago

it's true that for a herbarium specimen it's not too useful without them. But honestly most of my research grade obs don't have them since so many are trees and shrubs.

Posted by charlie almost 7 years ago

Here's an example of how the fruit was the characteristic that helped me to identify the species: The keeled sepals around the fruit were the difference between Chenopodium album and Chenopodium berlandieri.

Posted by suz almost 7 years ago

sometimes you need them, sometimes you don't. with chenopodium you are gonna want anything you can get :)

Posted by charlie almost 7 years ago

This is great! Super weird that I didn't get notifications about this thread until @suz commented though. I hate missing notifications.

Posted by carrieseltzer almost 7 years ago

Yeah I think that message is good for new users who post vague plant pics; it's the online equivalent of the person who brings you a single leaf for an identification and you can't even tell even if it's a leaf or leaflet.

Posted by carrieseltzer almost 7 years ago

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