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IDs based on comments

Many times a comment by an expert (or a non-expert) is a mere suggestion, but the contributor accepts it as a firm ID and places it accordingly in the guide when it should be more appropriate to place it in the next higher taxon. Here is a list of such comments:

it looks like. . .
it may be. . .
It seems to be. . .
it suggests. . .
I would guess. . .
this should be xxx, but that is an educated guess!
I'm pretty sure. . .
I'm fairly sure. . .
possibly. . .

In all these examples the image was placed where it was suggested, even, in some cases, after words of caution by other contributors.
This problem of misplacement is compounded later on when other contributors rely on these very shaky IDs to make their own. There seem to be pages full of uncertain Ids. One example is the genus Ophion of Ichneumonidae, a very difficult family. Not a single image in that page has a reliable ID.
In my opinion all those images should be moved to a taxon where there is a higher degree of certainty. Perhaps, part of the problem is that the commentator doesn’t make this clear enough.
I would like to see experts using words such as: “It may be species xxx, but place it on the genus page for now”. Fortunately, some intelligent commentators have started using the wording: “Not an ID but. . .” We should see more of that.
Any other suggestions?

Added later. See this forum and this

A couple of comments
1. It looks like we are OK with some intermediate categories as long as they are not called “No Taxon”. We need a word such as “Group” or “Other”. Personally, I like “Other”. It could refer to a group of species or genera or a “subtribe” or “Ichneumons grouped by color" or a glossary term, etc.
I will mention that we have had such pages almost from the beginning; the “Phsyoconops/Physocephala” page was created in 2004 and most images of those two genera of flies stayed there until we got a little better at telling them apart and moved many of them to the respective genus. So, it was never a trash can, it was a useful page and still is.
2. Somebody said that mistakes are usually caught fairly quickly, but I disagree. For instance, Tony moved a number of flies recently from Pollenia rudis to Pollenia for good reasons. Some had been there since 2004.
Also, what do you think of all these ladybug larvae? here and here? They have been on those pages since 2006 and 2007 although there is no sign of agreement about their IDs.
There are also a few more ladybugs in this forum; scroll down to the ones with question marks. I wasn’t even looking for mistakes or dubious placements; I was just having fun with the many ladybug larvae.
My feeling is that many mistakes are not caught soon enough and that they have time to mislead lots of people.

The Balaban's explanations have clarified things for me, and I offer my apologies for misconstruing their comments - it seems we're on the same page.

I took a look at the temporary "No Taxon femorata species-group". I like the concept, but to move pages of included species under it does add another level in the heirarchy - seems to run counter to what most folks here want. I simply envisioned it as a holding area for photos assignable to that group but unable to be specifically placed, while the included species retain their own place under genus.

Whatever is decided, however, I gotta side with Tony on the whole "No Taxon" verbage issue - it's nonsensical, and obviously if it can create the kind of confusion it did with Tony and myself I think it will be a source of great confusion to the general audience. I don't understand the technical issues with changing the wording, but it's gonna be hard for me to ever get my head around any use of "No Taxon".

By the way, I don't consider Beatriz's comments without merit - I just went through a bunch more photos, and in some cases explicitly stated "Not an ID..." where I offered a possible species name but don't wish the photo to actually be moved to that species. This might be a good practice for all to follow.

Discussion Progression
Beatriz suggested two important trends: 1) ambiguous or incomplete language when commenting on submission identifications & 2) moving of specimens to unconfirmed/uncertain taxa (species?).

She then recommended a remedy: move those specimens to more certain taxa (and use clearer language).

Exceedingly cogent, relevant, experienced, valuable points and other remedies were put forward.

However, what started as a consideration of the accuracy and integrity of BugGuide seemed to shift partly to a discussion of the very old saw of the convenience of BugGuide with phrases such as “cluttering the genus page” and “remove clutter from the family page.” (“Clutter”, that’s a funny word.) Do you see the difference?

We absolutely want to make BugGuide inviting and easy to use for experts lending their time and attention and to everyone else. We strive to do that here in the forums. Correct me if I’m wrong, and it has been written here before, but the nature of volunteer entomology and photography, and the limited participation of experts indicates that most specimens will reside somewhere between family and genus, inclusive. I’m more willing to live with that than with misidentifying and misleading. BugGuide can be on the edge of rolling back those limitations but because of the vast yet detailed nature of this venture, ease of use will have its own limitations.

I appreciate the level of this discussion. Ted’s 8:15 comment seems to best represent my point of view along with Beatriz's original post.

“No Taxa” ranks have been and are very useful but their proliferation may be more clutter than what we have now. How much clutter are they expected to relieve? "Similar Species" information can already reside on Info pages, specimen pages, articles....

I have no problem with expert statistical identifications; I do it every time I hear a chickadee here in central Arizona.

Statistical IDs
I see some images that get IDs that appear to be swayed by statistics. "Most likely the more common", "Common in your region", "More frequently encountered" , etc. If there are 2 or more species that look similar but we give out the "Most common" ID 100% of the time is that a problem?

If the ratio is 10 to 1, on the 11th ID should we call it one of the other species? :-) Where does the statistical ID become OK, 100 to 1, more?

Say I collect 100 flies from a swarm over a marsh and find that 90 are species A and the rest are something else that looks similar to A. If I use that data to assume a swarm of 10,000 will contain 9000 of species A that may be good. If I individuall say "Most likely A" to all 10,000 that seems less good. I'm sure some images in ID Request would contain enough detail to have a few IDed to something other than A, but still most would skew towards A if any image without sufficient detail is simply called "Most likely A".

It would seem that the experts,
such as Ted and Tony and Peter, expect that when they identify a species without absolute certainty, that image will be moved to the corresponding species page with their comments attached (and maybe even added to the INFO page). That has always been our interpretation of the wishes of the experts whenever this question arises. While those of us who spend considerable time on BugGuide pick up who the experts are quickly, as Beatriz has mentioned several times, it is not always possible for a casual visitor to know the identity of the person commenting on their image.

Our feeling has always been that yes, mistakes are sometimes made. Usually those are corrected reasonably quickly. But sometimes they sit in err for a long time before someone stumbles onto them. It seems to be the nature of the website and we have pretty much come to live with that. The alternative seems to be gridlock. Waiting for a recognized expert to give a definitive ID would mean almost nothing would be put away.

For example, we recently moved Jo Ann's spider images from ID Request to Spiders because ID Request is getting out of control, as Lynette pointed out. No expert commented, but we figure we're safe saying they are spiders. Today we moved them to Linyphiinae without an expert commenting because the base spider page is getting out of control. We're certain, for our purposes, that they are Linyphiinae, but we're not expert in anything! Today we also suggested to Jo Ann that they are Neriene radiata. There are lots of Linyphiids that we don't know - hundreds! But all the other images that look exactly like these are on that page. It makes sense to us to move these there, even without expert comment, if only to keep them all together. Someday maybe an expert will pass through and teach us that we have three species on that page and tell us how to separate them and we'll fix it. It seems to us that's how BugGuide works. It's not perfect. We may temporarily mislead someone. But it's the best we can do. That's why there is a Disclaimer at the bottom of this page.

We would side with Beatriz and say let's be as careful as we can be. Let's make our comments as clear as we can. Let's be as certain as we can be when we move images to guide pages. And let's correct any mistakes we see.

One last comment - did you think we would never end? We would like to add to this forum discussion the previously discussed topic of species group guide pages. Those inseparable Sympetrum species come to mind. Or all those lookalike mostly blue Enallagma. Would it be ok to make a No Taxon Page that lists all the species of Sympetrum or Enallagma that we can't tell apart from images and move the unidentifiable images there rather than cluttering the genus page with them? Beatriz's Ophion example would be the same. What are the genera that look like Ophion? Let's make a No Taxon page that identifies all those genera and move all the Ophion like images there, leaving on Ophion only those that someone knows are actually Ophion.

Waiting to hear from others of you...

move moth
Please move moth image # 71671 to Carmenta anthracipennis from Synanthedon. My apple computer cannot contact your e-mail address so I can't contact you directly.

sorry, we've tried to disguise the address using -at- instead of the symbol.

I don't follow the logic either...
You acknowledge that the experts (at least those who have commented here) expect photos with their IDs and comments to be moved even if qualified, but then conclude by saying "We would side with Beatriz..." The whole thrust of Beatriz's post is that the inclusion of qualifying language with an ID makes it non-conclusive, and thus the photo should not be moved to the level suggested by the indentifier. Even with such qualifiers, and ID is an ID. If it's not an ID, then that should be stated. Adding to the mix that those performing IDs have different levels of expertise, and that users cannot always gauge that expertise, I think unnecessarily complicates the process. Experts can make mistakes, and novices can be right. When mistakes do happen, they are usually corrected quickly, in rare cases not, but even then the chances are slim that it caused a problem.

I believe a "No Taxon Page" to be less desirable even than just lumping everything into the genus page. If something can be ID'd to family, that's where it should go. If it can be ID'd to genus, that's where it should go. I can see creating a "xxx species-group" page at the species level within a genus for photos that can be ID'd to a well-defined species-group - there are some Buprestidae where this would be useful (e.g., "femorata species-group" under Chrysobothris and "otiosus species-group" under Agrilus).

A "No Taxon" page would be nothing more than a trashcan, and there would be continuous pressure to move anything that cannot be ID'd with certainty into that trashcan.

OK, you have both species group pages
send us an email indicating the numbers of any images you would like moved to those pages.

We made a temporary
"femorata species-group" under Chrysobothris so you could see what can be done with a No Taxon page. The species pages which form the "femorata species-group" can be moved under that No Taxon and identified as being there. Images that can't be separated to species, but certainly belong in that group, can be posted to the NO Taxon species group page.

If you like the idea and want to make it permanent. Let us know what species belong to the group and we will move them there and change the No Taxon title for increased clarity.

Again apologies here, Ted
We should have been more clear and said:

We would agree with what Beatriz says about being as careful as we can be. Let's make our comments as clear as we can. Let's be as certain as we can be when we move images to guide pages. And let's correct any mistakes we see. But we wouldn't wait for absolute certainty to move images into the guide. Our spider example was meant to show that we think images can and should be moved into the guide as appropriate even though we, J&J for example, as amateurs, will never have complete certainty. And we feel images should be moved to the pages indicated by the experts, such as yourself, even if that identification carries some qualifiers.

Sorry for the confusion caused by attempting to be brief.

No Taxon, what a great idea!
I didn't think of that. It would work very well for Syrphus/Eupeodes. Right now there are hundreds of images in Syrphini that belong to either one of these two genera and not to any of the numerous others. There are also many in Syrphus or Eupeodes that we can't really be sure of.
Tony, I guess that you didn't see this angle when you thought that a No taxon page is a bad idea.

Which angle?
Am I confused are are you confused?
Syrphini is a Tribe. A Tribe is a Taxonomic Category or a Taxonomic Unit or simply a Taxon (all these are the same). Thus an individual that obviously is either a Syrphus or a Eupodes should not (must not) be considered as a member of a "No Taxon" classification. The individual is a member of several taxa all the way from Animalia, Insecta, through Diptera, through Syrphidae to Syrphini (and everything in between).
As I commented earlier, all living organisms belong to at least one identifiable Taxon; all belong to many Taxa even though we may not be sure of all of them. So you can't say a bug is not a member of a taxon simply because you cannot place it beyond being an insect, you may have no idea of the lower taxa but it is not a member of a "No Taxon" grouping. Photos of insect traps, camera set-ups do belong in a "No Taxon" category.

Apologies to Ted and Tony on this
We should have explained what No Taxon means to an editor on BugGuide. When guide pages are made for example in the genus Sympetrum, two choices are available. A page can be put under Sympetrum as a Species page and identify which species of Sympetrum has been identified. An editor also has an opportunity, under Sympetrum, to make a No Taxon page. This indicates some other category of Sympetrum other than a species ID. We're not throwing all troubling images on BugGuide into a single No Taxon trashcan. We are taking Sympetrum that can't be separated by photo among obtrusum, rubicundulum, and internum, let's say, and putting them in a Sympetrum folder that says "may be either obtrusum, rubicundulum, or internum".

Notice how No Taxon is used on the Pentatomid page here. It helps remove clutter from the family page itself and allows experts to identify new images posted to the family without wading through dozens of nymphs or eggs. In the same way a No Taxon page under Sympetrum would allow the removal of images which an expert feels can't be sorted to species from new images which maybe can be. An expert doesn't keep wading through the same inseparable images looking for ones that can be identified to species.

Here's another example in the genus Nomada. Does that help clarify our comment?

I see the problem
When adding a guide "Add Guide" to Family page (for example) I see a Taxon window which opens to other lower levels one of which in "No Taxon".
This should be changed to something such as "Group". You can then have Group 1- internum spp. group; etc.
We cannot have a "No Taxon" category under the "Taxon" window. We have to follow the rules of Systematic Zoology.
Unidentifiable spp. can be placed under any label, even trashcan, but not in "No Taxon".
I re-iterate, each bug belongs to many taxa - none belong to "No Taxon".

No Taxon
It seems to me that what you object to is the use of the wording "NoTaxon", but not the creation of subgenera or species groups. We don't like the "NoTaxon" wording either but it is one of the quirks of Bugguide. We have created many subgenera and species groups and the only way to do it is by putting them under "NoTaxon: Subgenus". See Megachile for instance.
Of course we all know that a subgenus is a taxon but so far this is the only way to do it.

Could someone
ask John to change the "No Taxon" label to something like "Group" or "Species Group" as this is what it is - a group of species that we want to put into a subgenus or that we can never ID beyond a higher taxon. Or even add a Subgenus category, surely this can't be too difficult to program. But the "No Taxon" label must go.

No Taxon page
I can't follow the logic on this. Perhaps a living organism that cannot be identified any further than it is living would fit this category. Everything else could be placed in its correct taxon, even if this is at only the Phylum level. Unidentifiable Sympetrum can be ID'd to the generic level and thus belong to the taxon Sympetrum, why do you insist they belong to a "No Taxon" page? Just because they are unidentifiable to a species seems an invalid reason. A simple comment under the image or on the Info page referring to the impossibility of identifying some Sympetrum from most photographs is all that is required. Essentially nothing on the Sympetrum Info page at present.

Moving all the unidntifiable Sympetrum photos to a "No Taxon" page would not bode well for the status of BugGuide as any sort of authoritative source when a visitor sees what is an obvious Sympetrum classified no further than Libellulidae. Even worse if the images are classified as "No Taxon".

A solution looking for a problem
I use such language precisely so that future users can gauge the level of confidence associated with the ID. Just because I'm not absolutely certain of an ID doesn't mean I think it should remain at the genus level - if that's what I think then I will say so. There are many shades of gray above tentative and below absolutely conclusive - where do you draw the line? Dumping photos into a generic trash can just because they lack an absolutely conclusive ID makes them much less useful than if they are moved to species. It is up to the user to note any caveats in the comments.

Of the examples you cite above, I don't consider any of them strong enough to prevent moving to species except, "Not an ID, but..." As I said, if I don't think it should be moved from genus I will say so.

Dumbing down
by moving such an image to a lower taxon (e.g., from sp. to genus) is not the best policy when the image can be ID'd to either 2 or a few species. When an image could represent 2 or more (a few) species then no one can prove or disprove that it is not species A; the image is a true likeness to A, also a true likeness to B and C. Perhaps the best policy is to place the image under all 3 (in this case) species names with an explanatory note under each.
Take my dorsal image of Symmerista canicosta HERE . It could serve as an image for 3 species (leucitys, canicosta, albifrons).
One of the biggest gaffes in Covell's moth book is his image and text of Symmerista albifrons.He makes no mention of the other 2 look-alike spp. and so most people finding a similar moth will identify their moth as albifrons and likely have a 33% probability of being correct and a 66% probability of being wrong. So, give it a specific epithet but comment on the other 2 species.

Even accurate in-hand species ID is no guarantee
that the corresponding BugGuide image will show enough detail for distinguishing difficult species. Therefore this dilemma in such cases: Cite the accurate name or move up to genus to prevent future misidentifications based on image? Temporary fix or compromise: Keep the species name but then comment on the other close choices that might exist.

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