POLL: New Observation Field - host plant identification

Hello caterpillar-rearing friends,

I have a question: I am considering adding a new Observation Field to this project to record host plant the observed caterpillar fed on in one single location. This will make it easier for any interested parties to analyse data down the track, and encourages users to note down this important information.

In the spirit of recycling, I have looked at some existing Observation Fields that could be used and they fall broadly into two categories - free text fields or taxon fields.

Name of Host Plant: https://www.inaturalist.org/observation_fields/6609 [text]
Caterpillar host plant (text field): https://www.inaturalist.org/observation_fields/4513 [text]
Host plant: https://www.inaturalist.org/observation_fields/254 [taxon]

The benefits and downsides of each, in my opinion:
Free text - great if you don't know the exact name of a plant. May be easier to use for adding multiple species or non-plant hosts e.g. fungi, lichen, carnivorous, did not feed in this life stage/at all? However, may lead to inconsistency or incorrect names being applied.
Taxon - ensures names used are consistent, updated when taxonomy is updated. Can add on any taxon level (species, genus, family, kingdom). Not useful where the name of the plant is not known, or the caterpillar fed on something other than a plant (or didn't feed at all while in captivity).

I can set it up so the field is not mandatory (can be left blank) if users are unsure of the name of the host plant.

Would you prefer a free text field, taxon field, combination of both? Or neither!

Have a look at the linked observation fields and check out some of the observations and how they've used the field. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below - do you like this idea? Which option do you prefer? Should the field be mandatory? And anything else you might like to add.

@daviaker @dlync @williamsmoths @scottwgavins @cobaltducks @ellurasanctuary @rattyexplores @ronigreer @helencross

Posted by claudiarose claudiarose, August 09, 2021 13:24


Is there any way to have a Taxon field that can also have free text that works like iNat's Taxon field that can have text as a placeholder? If not, my preference would be for a Taxon field. But I am not sure of the best way to deal with common names if that is all that is known. My main interest is plants and I rarely use common names so I am biased.
What would count as a host, the caterpillar on a branch for example or would there need to be evidence of it feeding?

Posted by scottwgavins 4 months ago (Flag)

Thanks Scott, good questions. I can definitely set it up as a non-mandatory taxon field + a free text field ("Comments" or similar so users can add a note e.g. "Unsure of plant species", "Caterpillar didn't feed" etc.). I'm not sure if the taxon field can handle placeholder free text - I've never been able to do it myself but I've seen other observation where it was done, may depend on what platform you're using. Generally if a common name is known that can be used in the taxon field to bring up the scientific name. There may be some errors or lack of detail (e.g. I am more likely to go to family or genus level as I'm not familiar with my plants).
In my opinion, host should be what the caterpillar was observed eating, but open to other views e.g. should this information be added for each life stage? Or just larval stages?

Posted by claudiarose 4 months ago (Flag)

I usually put host plant in the comments when I know it. Having the taxon field would probably be most useful down the track, if the placeholder suggestion works that would be good otherwise the Caterpillar host plant text field could be added as well. I would think that non-compulsory fields would be best because often the host plant is uncertain or unknown.

Posted by daviaker 4 months ago (Flag)

I assume that if host information is added for each life stage then it could still be sorted/sifted to extract just larval stage info for example if that is what is wanted in future.

Posted by scottwgavins 4 months ago (Flag)

Most of my observations are plants. I wonder if there could be a field to link to the host (eg. plant) observation if one is made so the ID could be confirmed/disputed/etc ?

Posted by scottwgavins 4 months ago (Flag)

Thanks David and Scott, good ideas.

I'll start off adding just a non-compulsory Host plant [taxon] field, and if that's not working well for you let me know in the comments here.

I agree Scott, probably not a big deal which life stages it is added to, if users add it to just larval or to all stages it will still be useful.

Re linking to an observation of the host, another Observation field could be used (something similar to Similar observation set that we currently use, maybe Reference observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observation_fields/7859). Or this could of course be linked in the Notes section. Let me know what you think. I will probably leave this up to the individual to add if they choose (rather than prompting when adding to the project) as not all users will have observations of the host plant.

Posted by claudiarose 4 months ago (Flag)

I should probably try and get my go-to plants in the garden IDed to species!

Posted by claudiarose 4 months ago (Flag)

First issue I've come up against: appears you can only add one value of "Host plant" per observation. So instead of Medicago, Trifolium and Acacia I have to put Fabaceae. This might be a problem when your caterpillar feeds some widely/across plant families.

Posted by claudiarose 4 months ago (Flag)

Maybe have some extra fields for them such as 'Additional Host Plant 1' and 'Additional Host Plant 2' ?

Posted by scottwgavins 4 months ago (Flag)

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