Asking to buy animals on iNat

As I continue to look through various flags, I’ve noticed that there tend to be quite a few that revolve around users asking to obtain a specimen from the observing user. Sometimes they’re offering to buy it, sometimes they’re just simply asking if they could be given one.

I know this is concerning/alarming for many passionate naturalists because generally it’s not a good practice, especially if it happens to involve a protected species. However, I see nothing about these kinds of situations in our guidelines.

Is there a set way to address the issue that aligns with our guidelines? I don’t feel comfortable addressing any of those flags because I have nothing from a rule standpoint to back it up.


This not only goes for animals, but I’ve had some requests from people asking if I could collect and send them seeds from plants I’ve observed. Several of these have been in areas (e.g. State/National Parks) where any such collecting would require a research permit. I find often people are surprised to learn that this requires permits - there appears to be a common misconception that anyone can collect seeds from anything anywhere without restrictions. There seems to be a need for better education about these issues.


This reminds me of an altercation I had with another iNat user many months ago, in which they were asking me to collect some species of small insect from a Monotropa plant I had identified. I don’t remember the exact specifics, but I was one of quite a few other users who received these messages, and the issue has been resolved a long time ago.


Based on the response from iNat staff on this post it sounds like anything involving a fee violates the guidelines: . I read over the TOS quickly and wasn’t able to find what was mentioned in the forum post, but perhaps I missed it. If your search is fruitless it might makes sense to @ them for clarification.

I do see the value of collecting and shipping for research purposes. In those situations I’d place much of the onus of responsibility on the appropriate regulations for collecting and shipping on the requestor to inform the potential collector (i.e. do the research and inform if any permits are required), but ultimately the liability would lie on the collector. No idea how that would be regulated on iNat vs. anyone asking for recreational purposes (no fee), but perhaps it’s left out to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. I don’t think it’s an extremely prevalent issue, at least not at this point.

That’s just my two cents and in no way tied to any iNat regs, but I do see a lot of value in the potential for legal collection for research purposes.


@bouteloua, would it be worth adding another point for such cases in the canned responses page?


it happens a lot! or at least me, and what I do is block them if they don’t have a science background (because they would need it for their research, iNat is a good way to connect with each other), but I never actually sent a thing from Chile.


I don’t see any issue with approaching someone to ask for a collection IF they are a scientist at an institution and they have a legitimate reason for wanting a specimen (usually taxonomy or genetic work). I don’t think it is appropriate for a amateur to ask for such a thing unless they personally know the person, and in that case they can communicate via PM or email and not in the comments of an observation. Any queries from people who are dealers or sellers on Ebay should just be ignored and iNat should consider banning accounts that may be shipping live plant or animal material as this is illegal in the U.S. and likely many other nations.

So I think there are situations where it is justified and some where it 100% isn’t. I for one know that there are many insect species that are needed for taxonomic work and some of them are difficult to find even with a targeted trip costing thousands of dollars. If a person can collect a specimen, freeze it, and send it to a university/lab, that is very helpful and the scientist would acknowledge the specimen’s collector in the paper. Of course if the specimen is in protected areas, a permit would be required, so the scientist should know better than to ask a random iNat user to collect anything unless they are sure that would be legal. You can’t also expect a random iNat user to be familiar with specimen preparation/storage and shipping, so the specimen might go to waste or be destroyed anyway. Is it worth the hassle?

The iNat user is fully within their rights to decline (rare species, they only found one random individual and cannot relocate, protected land, etc.), but I don’t see any reason to be rude. There are many “anti-collectors” who are quite mean and don’t seem to want to understand the reason for collections and just see it as killing or poaching. I see a lot of taxonomic projects assisted by iNaturalist members, and a lot of good science can be done with their cooperation. I think even people who do not choose to collect at all should be open to ethical collecting for scientific reasons, but should use disgression. Another reason for why iNat users should always have something written in their bio, and should use their names. A pseudonym will likely be ignored when it comes to collection requests.


This is the relevant section of the Terms of Use:

You agree not to use the Platform, the iNaturalist Services, or any iNaturalist Content for any illegal, unlawful, or unauthorized purpose or activity, including but not limited to threatening, abusing, soliciting, spam, harassing, stalking, impersonating, or intimidating other iNaturalist Users.

Asking someone for specimens can be OK, but the person should be able to discuss how they’re doing this legitimately and legally. If it’s unlawful, they should not be using iNaturalist for this. Personally I would not send someone anything unless they bring up legal issues and how they’re complying with the law (“I can provide you with the proper permits for sending a specimen across state/country lines”) and also send me an email address linked to an institution like a university. IMO their profile should be filled out as well. Yes, that can be faked, but it’s another way to build trust and be transparent.

Are these via messages? If so, please flag these messages if they’re suspicious so staff can take a look.


I don’t see it as a bad practice if it comes from a scientist about legal acquirement of specimens.


Just to clarify; I don’t see it as a bad practice when people are doing it legally and ethically. The ones I’m referring to seem to come from users with very little activity on iNat. There’s often no description in their profile and the majority of their comments seem to be asking people if they can obtain a specimen from them.

While I’m sure some of them have no ill intent and might just be trying to obtain one for good reasons, it still just has an off feeling to it.


As long as it’s legal and ethical and not in violation of the terms of service, have at it. I see some people claiming this should only be permissible if the requestor is attached to some university, institution or somesuch. I think that’s nonsense. Anyone who obeys the rules should be able to request specimens.


Perhaps it would be helpful if something were added to the Community Guidelines that address this, even just generally. I’ve seen it come up countless times and people often seem confused about whether or not it’s allowed, how to safely/legally send or receive specimens, etc.

I understand that this can vary drastically based on location and species, but again, a general outline or explanation about the topic might be helpful for users.


I think these should be taken seriously and I’m happy to inquire with people doing this.


Yup i made a thread for that one, it was handled. I even ended up contacting the lab’s PI because their student was clearly unaware of permitting issues in other states, that not everything is the same, and I did not want the PI ending up in hot water. And iNat handled their “according to INat you can collect” part of the note as iNat is not an authority on that!

DEFINITLY. But if someone requests something from you, that’s a great time to help educate them!

I usually respond to requests whether i see them in comments or get a DM about it, with the rules in my state. Alabama is extremely biodiverse, and almost every taxa (including plants and invertibrates) need permits - some even if on privately owned land, and certainly if on state land. We also have a lot of issues with plant-poaching in particular from legit scientists though…so…there’s certainly issues with things. In the plant world they get away with it saying ‘x miles from x city’ or such, even for herbaria, so you can’t trace where it came from exactly. I understand permits are annoying - I’m about to fill one out to make a basic observations (no collection) but the site is govt owned and any research needs a special use permit. Annoying? sure. Will I do it? YES. It does let everyone stay up on who is doing what work where, so that’s a good thing impo.

In my bio, I had to add as I do offer to assist scientists; “If you want me to collect for you, please ensure I am listed on your permit (Alabama requires permits for almost every taxon), and provide a copy of written permission from the landowner.”

Funny…I have not gotten any requests since adding that…


I used to live a couple of years in Mexico and I was asked for seeds several times. The laws in Mexico for those cases are very strict, so I’ve just sent these persons a link to CONABIO (a Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad ).


Is iNat any different than other resources in the exchange of data, which can include specimens?

I’ve shared out tens of thousands of specimens following requests coming via focus forums, topical organizations, and word-of-mouth referral. These specimens have gone to BMNH, Smithsonian, McGuire, Cornell, AMNH, and researchers both private and at institutions.

If they reach out to me by iNat, I don’t see it as any different. If, or when, this happens I’d embrace it, as it would be indicative of researchers’ involvement with iNat.


Permitting is always a tough hurdle, even when people state that their state or country has “easy permit applications”. I think in that case it’s just the hassle of going through that process, and processing and paperwork isn’t worth the effort if they just need one specimen. Plus many times you NEED to be with a institution to get a permit, and an amateur hobbyist is simply out of luck.

This is another issue altogether but I wish states would be more specific and strict about the taxa they require permits for. For people doing moth sheets or something it would be nice to be able to go out and do that for iNat without having to worry about a cop or ranger chasing you away. The vast majority of insects are in more danger from the political actions of southern governments than anything a amateur insect collector can possible inflict. It puts tough restrictions on biodiversity surveys even if the person doing it is not collecting at all. I have been to many a state park where they won’t let you even put out a moth sheet, even if you are camped there and killing nothing. i see that as a huge barrier to biodiversity surveys that a state park should LOVE to get for basically free!


Yikes, I’d not heard of simply observing without handling needing a permit, sheesh. That would be super frustrating. Our state def is not the ‘best’ system, but every complaint i’ve heard is more the annoyance of having to do it, rather than being denied. Of course, if you get someone jerky in charge I suppose that could change.

Generally speaking, I like the idea of people having a repository to know what is going on where research wise - but I wish everywhere it were focused on that aspect / networking of research as it is totally plausible people are doing similar things and don’t know each other as the field or focus is different but it would be helpful to coordinate efforts, so more those aspects of community being focus, and not on policing.

And generally speaking I’m against poaching & trespassing, both things sadly I know folk around here do…there are areas around here where no one trusts scientists because of it, and that harms everyone. Talk, make contact with local community, ask, listen, be polite. It’s not that hard…I find a fair few of scientists do seem to have a God Complex sadly.

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Yeah, the most recent was a PA state park and I had paid for a campsite to stay the night. I went far outside the campsite area (not visible at all) as to not disturb other campers and set up my MV light which I was not leaving unattended. A particularly mean ranger came by and not only told me to take the light down, but scoffed when I asked if he wanted to see the moths (there were Luna Moths and the like). I think he enjoyed the “bust the kids drinking” part of the job. A lot of state parks are very opposed to doing anything, and put a ton of regulations up to people studying their property.


ooooh one of these days I am going to see an alive luna moth…or any saturinida (however it’s spelled) really. I keep finding dead ones : ( or just wings.

Shame about the park. That doesn’t make any sense :(

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