Do Museum Specimens Count As Captive?

See title. I’ve seen a lot of museum specimens marked as captive and I personally don’t think they should be – after all, we likely cannot tell if they were captured from the wild (and fish/bushmeat is often marked as wild, so why couldn’t a museum specimen caught in the wild?), and I personally find that museum observations tend to clog up the captive field, which can be useful for viewing local livestock, for example. My personal policy has been to select “date is inaccurate” and “location is inaccurate” as unless the specimen is marked with the date and location it was collected (eg observed in its natural location) both of these are not reflective of its last observation. Is there an official policy on this?


Museum specimens should definitely not be marked as captive unless they genuinely represent collections of eg zoo animals. Countervote any captive votes and/or tag others to help if more than 1 vote present


They’re absolutely captive. They are where humans intend them to be.

A museum specimen, e.g., a pinned insect, herbarium sheet, is not captive.

As per the guidelines: “your museum/herbarium specimens that are appropriately marked with date and location of original collection [are wild]”. Please do not mark observations such as these as captive


If the location is set to the museum rather than the place they were collected, use the “location is not accurate” flag to mark them as casual


They should be casual unless the location and date are accurate to where and when they were collected, but captive is not the right DQA route to take.

4 Likes in case anyone wants an example. Date and location correspond to where the wasp was collected alive, although all pictures are from museum under microscope.

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I think museum specimens CAN be wild, if the location and date where they were collected is reported (and if they were alive at the time, not fossils). If the location and date are where/when the organism was observed in the museum, it must be considered casual, probably captive/cultivated.

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If it’s not your collection you personally gathered, it’s captive.
If you post correct date and you saw it alive in the wild, it’s wild.

These shouldn’t be marked as incorrect, they’re just specimens seen in captivity.

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I too think that “location is not accurate” will be the right attribute, since the organism has been dislocated from its natural habitat before I get the chance to take a pic in the museum. It is a fact that many specimens shown in museums have never been held in captivity, but were captured/collected from their natural habitat where they lived a wild life. Since dead specimens are not “held (in captivity)”, I did not “observe them in captivity” when looking at them in a museum. Imo.
In that regard there is a difference in the meaning of the words “captive” versus “captured”. The first word means “held in captivity”, the second word means “taken from the wild”. Also imo.

In general this is something I encountered a few times already: while there may be a broad consensus that a given observation should be marked as “casual”, in order to do so there will be a discussion on the right attribution. I encountered an identifier who responded that he never cares about the “philosophical implications” of different attributions as long as a casual observation is marked as “casual”. ;)

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You saw it e.g. today, in this museum, as not a wild animal, but a stuffed one, I don’t think it’s fair to mark it as inaccurate, cause you entered correct data on your encounter with it.
I think tiwane said before not to mark it as date inaccurate. On iNat captive means just “moved by humans/moves as humans want it through long enough period”, so when you take a thing and move it, it’s already dead and can’t move by itself anymore, it’s captive, not because it lived in captivity, it’s just the word used by iNat.

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I would only note that some objects practically cannot be photographed properly (allowing reliable identification of the species) in the wild. These are both microscopic objects and species whose identification requires special dissection of the specimen or special angles at high magnification (which is rarely possible in nature) - many insects.

As for cases, when a specimen was not collected personally by an iNat user. If there is sufficient data about the place and time of collection, and there is proper consent of the collector, and explicit attribution is given - it is not clear to me how this differs from posting a photo taken by a non-user (under the same conditions of good faith). The actual author (the collector) may not be willing or able to use iNaturalist, but may be willing to have someone else post their observations. Why should specimens collected by me (e.g. be considered wild and those collected by my colleagues (not a iNaturalist users - e.g. be considered captive? Is the biodiversity knowledge value of such observations lower? Is there something that distinguishes them that allows them to be considered casual?


You should only post photos taken by others if you saw the specimen, people posting others’ photos just because people sent them to them, they’re not doing the right thing.
It’s not hard to create a separate profile for other collectors that send you their findings, you can then send them the email and passwords in the case they want to check/use iNat by themselves later.
I’m pretty sure it was discussed in

All right, thanks for explaining. It certainly is a valid point of view.

I was thinking about creating several accounts. But this idea seems questionable to me. First, I am based on the recommendations of the iNaturalist staff, for example -

please use only one account for your activity on iNat

In addition, I think it can cause a lot of confusion even if used in good faith because of the complexity of managing multiple accounts at once. Which account should I use to comment on such observations? Is there anything I can do to influence their identification (direct “confirmation” of their identification would not be acceptable, of course)? So, this way doesn’t seem like a good way to me. At least not until there is some kind of guide to such cases approved by the iNaturalist staff.

Certainly, I only post specimens received from colleagues here after I have notified them of such an intention (and of the very existence of iNaturalist, of course) and received explicit consent (via email or other means). Perhaps some of them are even users. But it is unlikely that they would want to take the time to upload numerous photos taken ex situ by me. At least so far, no one has expressed such a wish. Unfortunately, I know of a way to “transfer” the observation to another user. And for the reasons mentioned above (authorship of identifications and comments) I am not sure that it can be done in any simple way at all.

But as for museum collections specifically - I think posting them to the iNaturalist requires great care. Perhaps a much better way is to post them to the GBIF dataset maintained by the organization (if they are a participant in that network).

P.S. Sorry, I misclicked “Reply” button. It was a reply to @Marina_Gorbunova comment (

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If you were the one who collected the organism and the date and location are accurate to when and where they were collected, then yes, they are wild.

However, any other instance of a museum species observation (likely the vast majority on the site) should be considered captive.

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They should be casual, but I don’t think captive is the correct bin within the casual category. I would not think of e.g. a stuffed animal or a pressed plant as “captive” as that definition suggest a live individual e.g. in a zoo or garden to me.


But it’s not your activity. Staff said it’s ok, I have accounts for several of my relatives, it’s not any different if you made accounts for different collectors.

@annkatrinrose they’re certainly captive by iNat standarts.

Look at the definition on the iNat help page. A captive organism is one where humans intend it to be. This, then, is the correct classification for specimens in a museum. None of the other “casual” categories would qualify.

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Well, not too long ago I would have agreed with you, and I think there’s a thread somewhere on the forum where I made similar statements only to be corrected by several people and pointed to the iNat help pages where it says quite clearly under examples for wild observations: “your museum/herbarium specimens that are appropriately marked with date and location of original collection.”

I can see issues arising if collection date and/or location are not known, but I think that would be more accurately solved by leaving those “unknown” which will render the observation casual anyway. Obviously, that can only be done by the observer and if it doesn’t happen it invites all sorts of DQA work-arounds. It seems like one of those gray areas where different people interpret the guidelines differently. Personally, I don’t recall seeing any museum specimens yet while identifying, but I mostly do plants anyway.

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