Are culture-based observations considered 'wild'?

I didn’t say anything about releasing them though, if you do something specifically to make fungus release spores (not just leaving in in humidity), and not do it for spores to grow (source of food, water), they’re wild imo, yes, circumstances are extreme and on the edge as was discussed in a topic about samples of water, etc.

Thanks for taking the time to explain your thinking. If I were to make a cultured observation, I would certainly enter the time the original sample was collected and the location that it was collected from. I mostly agree with your logic, but one thing that makes my scenario different to the other scenarios you mentioned is that the phenology, and potentially the distribution, would be unrepresentative of the natural biology in cases of culture.

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personally, in such a case, i would defer to whatever to the observer wants to classify it as. if i observed something like that myself, i think i would base wild / captive based on the particular environment. if it’s still a garden environment, and the new cherry would not likely grow outside of that controlled environment, i would call it cultivated, even if it self-seeded. if in doubt about self-seeding, i would just defer to the fact that it’s a controlled environment and call it captive.

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Yes, but by itself, before it started getting human attention it’s growing on its own and wasn’t meant to be there by human.

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I agree with melodi_96 on this one. In my opinion, something is ‘captive’ if its existence in that time/place is the result of human intention. Assuming humans didn’t do anything to deliberately make that cherry seedling sprout, the fact that it’s in a controlled environment doesn’t make it non-wild. A spider living inside a house is in an environment even more artificial than a garden, but no one would suggest that a house spider is captive/cultivated. I think it’s the intentionality behind means of establishment that matters, not the controlledness of the environment.


yes, the phenology and distribution / population count might be unrepresentative, but i think that’s just where the detailed notes are important to explain what’s going on in your observation. i think it’s often true that whenever you try to make microorganisms observable at human scale, you get distortions of how the organisms actually existed in nature – because you’ll have to stain them, put them under unnatural light conditions, etc. but i think in the spirit of iNaturalist, where the primary point is to connect people to nature, it’s more important to encourage any observations of natural microorganisms using whatever methods / processes are available, rather than to relegate these kinds of observations to a dark corner of the platform.

for me, the difference with the spider is that it probably arrived into the controlled environment on its own. i’m fine with you and melodi_96 calling the hypothetical baby cherry wild or non-wild. i don’t think that sort of classification is really that important in the grand scheme of things.

here’s a thinker: what would you call a baby elephant that was conceived naturally in a zoo and raised in a zoo? (you don’t actually have to respond to this, but it’s just something to mull over.)

Yes, the spider probably arrived in the house on its own. But the cherry sapling also arrived in the soil on its own (via fruit falling and releasing seed). In the case of elephants I think the question isn’t as difficult as it could be, and I will respond; I believe zoo keepers deliberately arrange matings between zoo animals such as elephants, so I would find it acceptable to call the calf a product of human will, and therefore non-wild. You could make the question trickier by changing the zoo elephants to pet dogs. If you owned multiple pet dogs, and two mated and produced a litter against your will, would those puppies be wild? I think there’s no definitive answer in reality, but unfortunately iNaturalist forces us to make decisions on this matter.

Let’s bring the discussion back to the original scenario (culturing), which I’m interested in not for the sake of discussion itself, but because I want to decide whether it would be worth my while to conduct some culturing. Overall I’m leaning towards your reasoning, pisum. I think the others that said “non-wild” might not have considered that I would be entering the time and location of collection, not the time and location of photography. I think the post where you wrote the following might be persuasive:

but i would classify the culture as wild at the location and date of collection. as noted earlier, the culture is just a process/method to make the wild organism observable at a human scale. this is no different from observations of organisms based on any of these other processes:

  • a specimen that taken in the field but prepped and photographed at another location
  • a photo that was taken in the field but blown up or otherwise processed at home to reveal features that weren’t observable in the field
  • a photo from a night/game cam that was taken in the field but reviewed and selected at a different time and location
  • a bat call that was taken in the field and processed at home into a spectrogram
  • a spore print taken at home from a mushroom collected in the field
  • DNA that was collected in the field but processed back in a lab

Not quite sure how I ended up in non-wild for culturing since I said it would depend on the intent of the observer. But anyway… there are caveats to any classification rules. What are you trying accomplish? Are spores present and what are they? Or what organisms are growing or thriving here now? iNat is a tool not a project. It can’t make all the decisions for you but it can provide a framework for many common questions. Spores and even some seeds can be problematic for certain questions.

If I wanted to know what fungus, bryophytes, or maybe even certain vascular plants are living in a location, rearing them in favorable conditions is a good start. But most spores and seeds fail. Are the rearing conditions so much more favorable than the habitat you collected in that the organism would never really grow there? I’d want to take care to only simulate conditions that can be found at the collection location for that kind of study.

If I’m asking “where do these spores go?” Sure, create the most favorable conditions you can (probably multiple types of favorable). The spores did get to the collection location naturally.

I think a few additional notes or annotation would satisfy most users of rearing records. Keeps everyone from wondering if this “wild” is getting outside the boundaries for their question.


Some very good notes on a reared observation here - Genus Narina from Pringle Bay, 7196, South Africa on August 06, 2017 at 11:37 PM by magriet b. <h3>Ambush life in a tub</h3> <h4>6 Aug 2017:</h4> I collected an adult ambush bug with 10 eggs … ·
It’s still marked as wild, though.

If asked, I would say that the first adult was the subject of the observation. Looks wild to me.

All the rearing information is bonus after the initial observation. There is a chance the adult and eggs are not related unless I missed the note about seeing the laying of eggs. They’re probably related though.

“the phenology, and potentially the distribution, would be unrepresentative of the natural biology in cases of culture.”

But your record would be of an ungerminated spore in the place you collected it. So all you are showing is that spores get everywhere. You aren’t saying the fungus would ever have grown in that place, so phenology and habitat are irrelevant. Growing it on in a humid container is just an identification aid.


My main concern with recording the spore would be, was it definitely from the place you claim or was it a subsequent contamination? But I guess mycologists have methods for dealing with that.

I have this observation of E. coli from a creek:
As far as I know the only reliable way to detect the presence of E. coli in water is with a test like this, or it least it’s by far the easiest. It’s an interesting situation to think about since it is indirect evidence in multiple steps.

The coloured dots are a chemical in the gel reacting to the waste produced by the offspring of the original bacteria that were in the creek (each dot represents a colony which was theoretically produced from a single bacterium). My picture would have been taken about 24 hours after the water was collected from the creek.
E. coli occurs naturally in the guts of warm-blooded animals, and isn’t supposed to survive longer than 24 hours or so outside of conditions analagous to that (warm, humid, and dark). So the creek isn’t the natural habitat and those individual bacteria would have come from a human (this creek is known to have sewage contamination) or other mammal or bird.
And with all that I still think it should count as wild since I used the date and time of collecting the water sample, and am using it as evidence that the bacteria were occurring naturally in the creek at that time.


“Not quite sure how I ended up in non-wild for culturing…”

Re-reading your previous post, I realise that I misinterpreted you. Sorry!

Thanks for taking the time to explain your reasoning.


While the wild status of cultured organisms is confusing, you’ve convinced me that it would be more appropriate to call them ‘wild’ than the alternative. Thank you. Yes, using the cultured fungus example, I would not be making the claim that the fungus naturally grows in that location or at that time, I would simply be evidencing that at least one wild spore naturally occurred in that location at that time of sample collection.

Regarding the possibility of contamination, if it were a fungal culture, aerial spores entering the container might be a concern. But then the issue would be incorrect location and time rather than incorrect wild/non-wild status. In any case, I don’t intend to culture fungi, but rather, a different organism which has no possibility of entering the culture accidentally.

In summary, I suppose I will go ahead with my culture experiment.

Thank you everyone for the discussion.


Where is the cutoff, though? If I have, say, cyanobacteria and ostracods in an ecosphere, which came from a known locality, but the ecosphere is several months old and might have developed differently during that time than the source waterway… to me that feels “captive” or “cultivated.” Even though, as @tallastro says, I cultured it for identification.

My ecospheres seem like they would be a gray area – I didn’t purposely choose which organisms to put in (they are whatever happened to activate out of the water and sand), but I did build the ecospheres on purpose, knowing stuff would grow in them.

In the case of bacterial culture, as with my ecospheres, there may be succession as the culture grows. In the days it takes for a bacterial culture to become visible, some taxa might have outcompeted and eliminated others.

Okay, so then I can put my ecosphere organisms up as wild, then?

According to my current understanding, it would make more sense to call your ecosphere organisms ‘wild’ than it would to call them ‘captive’ if you set the observation time and observation place to be time and location that you collected source material for the ecosphere. Life doesn’t spontaneously generate, so assuming your ecosphere is air-tight, anything observed in the ecosphere even weeks after the start would have originated from a wild organism at the location and time of source material collection.


if you look hard enough, you will always be able to find edge cases that are hard to fit into whatever classification system you have. if a tardigrade hitches a ride on a space capsule that stays up in a space for a week, and you observe it before the capsule descends back to earth, what do you record for the location and time? if you observe cells that have been created synthetically, is this life?

here’s what i would try to remember as i classify as wild vs cultivated:


if a tardigrade hitches a ride on a space capsule that stays up in a space for a week, and you observe it before the capsule descends back to earth, what do you record for the location and time?

This is a bit off-topic, but I’ve also wondered how iNaturalist will treat extraterrestrial observations. Surely any micro-organism that commonly lives on/in the human body has already been unintentionally (i.e. ‘wild’) taken to earth orbit and the moon, including some that are easily observed: herpesviruses (which live in all of us usually dormantly; but often activate in zero-gravity), demodex mites (which live in everyone’s eyelash follicles), and pimples (Propionibacterium acnes), etc. It’s only a matter of time before someone observes it, if not on the ISS then whenever humanity becomes multi-planetary.

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