Captive raised caterpillar observations

I first must start saying that I regularly breed caterpillars as a hobby, and I take advantage of that to take photos of them and document their life cycles, particularly species with poorly documented biology. So at first, adding them as observations to iNat sounds like an excellent idea, but there is a little problem: I don’t know if I should mark them as captive or not.

First of all, I must say: ALL my caterpillars/eggs/pupae are collected in the wild (ALWAYS close to were I live), I don’t buy them at some online butterfly farm or anything like that, and I ALWAYS release the adult butterflies/moths into the wild again to the same spot where they were collected, so they end up as wild animals.

  1. If I mark them as captive, they would not be verifiable for research grade, and I wonder if that is important. According to me, a not verifiable observation is almost like useless, and an observation about the life cycle of an insect is definitely not useless. I’ve seen many observations of raised caterpillars (NOT marked as captive) being celebrated by lepidopterists in the comments, so it seems adding the captive mark is not very necessary.

I would really appreciate someone’s opinion about this subject.


It’s very much a gray area. If the seasonality is right were the animal would have been in the same life-stage in the wild as it is under care, I doubt it would be a big deal to mark them as wild. The location is obviously correct. If you raise them in the winter and the phenology is way off, that’s a clear case of making them captive being best.


I live in tropical Mexico, so seasons don’t apply very much here.

And as I mentioned before, I always catch my eggs/larvae/pupae from the wild, their ‘‘phenology’’ would be way off if I buy them or get them from a different place.


As mentioned, a grey area. I used to rear moths in a research station, from egg to adult, on an artificial diet. Those would be captive. My opinion is that if they are raised from wild eggs, fed on their host plants, and then released, they would be considered natural, or wild. Now, to be clear, I’m not a stickler for those details. I have raised a few larvae to adult, released the adults, and consider them wild. I have two butterfly pupae overwintering on my front porch. If they have survived the winter, they will be released. Others may completely disagree with me, but that is my opinion!
Where in Mexico do you live?


Yes, completely agree with your and Kevin’s opinions, and yes, I always feed them with their host plant and not with artificial food so I guess that also counts.
I live in a house, specifically next to my neighbors. ;)

Were those Mamestra configurata hehehe?

I would suggest posting them with their original collection date and location once you have raised them. The egg/caterpillar/pupae were certainly wild when collected. You can include the pics of the adult to establish the ID but note that the pics were taken after raising in captivity. You can annotate with only the life stage at the time of collection.

Any observations made at times/locations after collections though should be marked captive. At that point, the organism is under care of a human.


Yes, but when the adult emerges I will release it back to the same spot where it was collected, so it’s going to be wild again.


Organisms can change back and forth. :slightly_smiling_face:

To use the Zebra example from the help page, a Zebra on the Serengeti is wild. If it caught and displayed in a Zoo, it becomes captive. If it is later released, it is wild again.
Its previous statuses don’t apply to its current status. Observations from when it was in captivity would still be “not wild”, even though it was later released.


-An observation taken apon collection, with the location marked at the collection site, is wild.
-An observation made apon release, with the location marked at the release site, is wild.

Any other observations of these animals would be marked as captive. But don’t assume these are useless, either. Especially if you’re dealing with little-known species, every data point counts and is important. Just make sure to mark them captive.


If they are wild caught in your area and eating their natural food, and you are releasing them, I would not mark as captive. On this site, Captive observations are pretty much ignored. If you are documenting life stages of a caterpillar that is not well documented, who is going to see it as casual? Your house isn’t a zoo. They are getting minimal human care.

You could post the later indoor photos on the original wild observation. That isn’t following iNat rules either, but this site isn’t built for life cycle observations.


That’s exactly what I meant. They never get attention when marked as captive.


But I always mark the location where they were collected, even if they are already captive.

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They aren’t subject to predation & other dangers they would be exposed to in the wild either. That in itself can be a pretty big level of care.


In fact, many of us (including me) use the ‘‘verifiable’’ filter to avoid casual observations, so if I mark an obs. as captive way less people/IDiers/Interested experts will see it.

It’s just my humble opinion.

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But that’s your focus (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It can’t be assumed to be everyone’s focus.
Other “interested experts” may be “interested” enough that they’ve bookmarked filters with their taxon of interest & verifiable=any

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Yes I know… well in fact some parasites could still get into, or the caterpillar brought home could be parasitized already.

And I don’t give them too much either: just food, I mean, I don’t even close the containers at night.

right, but’s it’s still more cultivated than not.


Yes, but when most try to avoid captive observations they try to avoid useless observations (common example here in Mexico: butterflies in butterfly houses), not valuable rare caterpillars never documented.

Tagging something that is captive per iNat rules as wild just to get an ID is still frowned upon. I’m pretty sure I can find forum posts from staff saying as much.

Tag it wild if you truly believe that. Not just to “game the system” & get more eyes on it.

[Addendum: you might want to consider voting for this feature request: ]


So, got an idea: add every life stages in a single observation.

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