Domesticated species not clearly captive

Is there an official policy if these should be marked captive or not ?

If a cat or dog is photographed inside a building or with a collar etc, to my mind it is clearly captive, however in cases where one is photographed outside, all too often if I mark them as captive I get back a note saying ‘there are feral cats here’ etc.

To my mind, they should only be left as wild if the observer has clear knowledge that specific individual is totally feral, but I’m open to hear what others think.

I dont really want explore maps and so forth to be filled with pins of cats and dogs, but again, if others say that these are validly wild, I will refrain from so marking them.


feral cats are ecologically a very important invasive species, in some areas dogs probably are too, i think those are certainly appropriate to add but the person adding them should get in the habit of noting they are feral and marking as wild.


Surely any cat or dog in a nature reserve that is closed to dogs is feral and should not be marked as “not wild” or “captive”, even if you recognize them as your neighbours dog or cat.
Similarly, escaped cage birds seen flying, are ‘wild’ even if they died or are eaten within a few days.

Along a similar vein. If a tree was planted 100 years ago is it still planted? How long must a plant survive before it is no longer planted and wild? After all it has survived all sorts of pressures (droughts, floods, heat, cold, fires), at some stage it must “escape” from being the same as a pampered pot or garden plant?


escaped caged birds seem iffy to me, or at least an edge case. If i toss my houseplant outside and it is laying in the dirt dying does that mean i mark it as wild? I am not sure the birds are very different in terms of ecological viability. If they can’t breed they probably shouldn’t be marked as wild.

IMHO any planted plant should stay marked as not wild forever. Why? Because having them marked as wild messes up the ability of us to use the mapping onsite to track species distribution, because all kinds of stuff has been planted but just sits there without doing anything meaningful. I think instead we just need to fix the whole ‘planted = casual’ thing so people can still add those observations without them being minimized. However, the planted tree should never be marked wild even if it’s a planted bristlecone pine that lives 3000 years.


Do your maps not get messed up by alien and invasive species as well?
Surely an invasive record of Redwoods in Tokai South Africa will mess up your mapping species distributions just as much as a planted record?

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Not at all. I’m interested in ecology of both native and naturalized/invasive species as I think many people are. And anyhow there are indications of what is native vs invasive and they don’t occur in the same areas anyway so I don’t see how they would mess with the maps.

I think what you really want is the ability to toggle on and off the captive/cultivated observations on the maps? Or something else?


I think ideally a population of animals shouldn’t be considered “wild” until they’ve started breeding out of captivity and shown themselves capable of surviving outside for at least a year. But on a practical level it’s hard to tell if a cat wandering around a city is feral or not, or whether or not a domestic goose associating with a wild Canada Goose is close enough to be considered breeding… So I think I agree with assuming captive unless the observer or another local with experience says otherwise.


Continuing the discussion from Domesticated species not clearly captive:

You could also argue there is no real difference between a domestic cat that is provided with a house to live in and food to eat and a garden bird that’s given a nest box to breed in and has access to garden feeders. Both animals are at a certain location because of food and shelter provided by humans, but both are free to go where they please and to interact with the environment. In my view, both are wild.


An escape can be wild and/or naturalised, and there are grey-scale situations galore with this topic! It really comes down to how fine a differentiation needs to be made, and could a concensus be reached in that regard


With plants, something is either planted, or it isn’t. There are gray areas, and of course it isn’t always easy to actually determine that something was planted, but there are really only two categories. If you want to see the distribution of where species X is reproducing you can do so, and if you want to see the distribution where species X is growing at all, you can also do so. (Or you should be able to, I think there’s some issues with the current filter options that don’t make this super easy). I don’t see there being much downside to marking even large planted trees as cultivated, the information is still available and easily obtained.

With animals I think the situation is quite different. Because they can move around, there is a distinct category in the middle:

  1. Captive animals
  2. Escaped or otherwise free-roaming animals
  3. Wild animals

There are certainly fuzzy borders in play here, but ultimately I think most people can agree on where almost any single case falls into this categorisation.

Some people are really only interested in category 3 and find it annoying when animals in category 2 are lumped in. They think the distinction between 2 and 3 is much more important than the distinction between 1 and 2. This is exemplified by much of the birding community – there are central organisations that decide when an introduced species is officially “established”, and until that point, those species are often ignored.

Other people, and I’d count myself as one of them, see the distinction between 1 and 2 as also very important. I find it very frustrating that escaped birds, or often even wild-born birds that aren’t “established”, get lumped in with all the pointless observations of zoo animals and pets. The number of Monk Parakeets people have in their living rooms is pretty much irrelevant to anything I’m interested in. The number of Monk Parakeets flying around the city is a lot more interesting, especially because it may imply that we are seeing or are going to start seeing observations in category 3.

The other important point here is that it is usually hard to tell whether something falls into 2 or 3. Ideally what we would like to do is, with any given animal, determine whether it was born in the wild or in captivity. But this is almost impossible. So instead what actually happens is that people use population-level judgements (e.g. are Monk Parakeets regularly breeding in this city?) to judge individual observations. This doesn’t sit well with me. There’s a risk of circular arguments (I don’t see any other wild Monk Parakeet observations, so I’m going to mark that this one isn’t wild). And it also just doesn’t feel like the kind of thing we should be doing at the level of individual observations. If Monk Parakeets are established in Chicago but not in Toronto, that’s useful information that iNaturalist can probably display somewhere. But I don’t think the way to display it is by going in and marking every Monk Parakeet from Toronto as captive (and then presumably going back and individually marking them all as wild again if someone determines that they are actually breeding?)

The problem is that there are many people who want to distinguish 1 from 2, and there are many people who want to distinguish 2 from 3. Both desires are legitimate, but there is no way to accommodate both in the current set-up with the binary “captive/cultivated” option.

I think ultimately what there should be is three categorisations for animals:

  1. Captive
  2. Free-roaming, but potentially or certainly not “wild”
  3. Wild

With probably some ability in the long-term to automatically classify certain species in certain areas into category 2 instead of 3. This option could hold most observations of free-roaming dogs and cats, where there isn’t a known wild population.

For plants (and fungi etc.), this extra option isn’t necessary from what I can see.


Interesting. There is an equivalent in plants, kind of, but not one I’ve tried to track on here. Here’s how I see it:

  1. native population that existed more or less for 100s of years (pre-colonization in the Americas) and is fully integrated into ecosystem
  2. Plants that are not 1 but are growing and reproducing on their own in a more or less naural setting - invasives, naturalized non-natives, and native plants that are planted in a different place than they used to grow (native plant landscapes, restoration sites)
  3. Plants that reproduce and spread on their own but only in very human modified settings - for instance grasses and dandelions in lawns, wildflower seed that is encouraged in a planter but not planted. They will persist as long as humans keep managing the land the same way. There is a wide range here from sparsely used pasture or logging areas, through landscaping and lawns, right up to plants that pop up in houseplant pots.
  4. Plants that may pop up on their own but can’t survive the conditions. For instance, plants in Vermont that are from a warmer climate, may seed around in the summer, but are always killed by the winter. in other areas the limiting factor would be moisture, not temperature.
  5. a plant that was specifically planted, but can survive in the long term. For instance, a crab apple tree that is winter hardy here
  6. A plant that was specifically planted, and can’t survive the winter or other limiting factor. In my case, garden plants, annuals from the store that don’t survive the winter.

I by no means think we need to parse these all out in data quality, but i wish there were a way to parse out (1) from the rest. It could be done with fields, but i haven’t dived into that.

If this discussion is diverging too far we can make a new topic. Or maybe even change the title of this one to general ‘when to mark as wild’. Thoughts?


While I generally take your point, I disagree with this example for one main reason; The cat was placed in the environment by humans and if all support was taken away there is a higher chance (depending on where it is living) that it may not survive “wild.” The native bird species will take what it can get and may at times rely heavily on the offerings (all kinds) of humans but is not dependent in the same way a house pet is and doesn’t exist because someone physically introduced it. Unless you (or another human) places the birds (maybe then European starlings, house finches on the east coast and house sparrows in the americas would be excluded) there they seem different than a house cat being allowed outdoors. A barn cat may be in a separate category if it is predominantly living alone, outdoors and must rely on hunting to survive. I’m containing every impulse to not link to cats indoors information :zipper_mouth_face:

edit: I do realize that sometimes in vulnerable species, efforts at bird conservation through nesting opportunities, food offerings, other interventions etc. may be the (only) thing(s) that helps a species survive or thrive or come back from near extinction but in many of those cases they were in harm’s way because of human behaviors to begin with.


My 2c.
case 1:
My dog gets out at night and kills animals in the local nature reserve and returns every morning. It is clearly “not wild” as it is my own pet and only eats what I feed it. If it is caught on an animal trap, the collar will be clearly visible, so it must be marked as ‘not wild’. It cannot be considered a valid wild observation in the nature reserve as it is domesticated.
I cannot accept this view! The moment my dog leaves the area that I want it to be - my garden - in it is a wild dog. Yes it will never breed and maintain a wild population, but it is not where it is wanted.

I should point out that this is true to many wild populations. They are sustained by migration from more viable populations and would probably go extinct without this immigration. Does this make these populations not wild because they cannot reproduce? In a few of our isolated reserves reintroduced populations are unsustainable - does that make them “not wild”? But if we can obtain corridors linking these reserves to nearby reserves, then would they become “wild” again?

case 2:
My Peppermint gum was planted by the previous owner of the house. Definitely planted, in the middle of my lawn. It seeds seeds, but they never survive in my garden. A few however do get over the fence into the wetlands, where they spawn a respectable alien invasion that both affects the local biodiversity and the conservation/urban parks authorities budgets.
But my tree is only providing the seeds for this invasion. It is 'not wild" and should not be seen as part of the invasion population - which is wild.
Again I cannot accept this view. Yes the tree is planted. But it is propagating and spreading. Even though it is still in my garden and has not escaped, its progeny have. It is out of control! It is wild!

Yes there are simple dictatorial rules that can be applied to the above, depending on what one’s personal opinion is. However, as a user of the data, I want to apply rules relevant to the situation - which may well differ for the same dataset depending on my current need.

Is should also add that I would not be contributing to this debate, were it not that cases of clearly wild organisms have been tagged as “not wild” by well-meaning users who have not bothered to understand the situation, and I have never been informed that this has happened and my data corrupted. Fix that oversight and I will be happy. (although I will always be ready for an exciting debate on what is wild and what is not).


Well they do. In the Cape Flora our centres of endemism as tens of km wide. Alien invasive species can originate from an entirely different ecozone, but still be only 100km away. In these cases they do interfere with the maps. And if used in horticulture (you may recognize some of our Cape contributions to horticulture: Gladiolus, Pelargonium to name but two) garden plants even in these areas can interfere with the use of maps for conservation purposes (Red List Assessment, Reserve acquisition - yes many nature reserves have “garden” sections showcasing the flora, unfortunately usually alien species in our biodiverse area - some of which even hybridize with their wild relatives across the fence; management planning, etc.)


I was just thinking about honey bees today, and going based off the logic I described earlier basically all the honey bee observations in my area should be marked captive.

From another thread:

I don’t think that applies here, where a beekeeper needs to put in quite a bit of effort to keep a hive alive through the winter and feral populations are unlikely to survive on their own due to winter cold and diseases. There’s a pretty low chance that any bee I see isn’t from a hive that a human is keeping alive.

Honey bees seem to be an extreme of the situation described in this thread, where for example you can’t tell if a free-roaming cat or dog is directly reliant on humans or not. The default for honey bees is just leaving them all as “wild” when that’s not true for most of them. Is it fine to do that with pets too, even though it’s implying things to viewers that aren’t true?

I have photos of honey bees flying around the entrance to a beehive and also photos of them drinking from a puddle 100m away (not uploaded to iNat currently). Should I mark one captive and not the other?

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If you don’t know for sure it’s a bee from this hive it’s better to leave it wild, there’re so many overseen wild hives that high chances are those bees are not captive ones, though it depends on distance and terrain and it’s up to you to decide. With cats it’s easier to say one has no home, all bees look the same.

I can understand that in many places that maybe have warmer temperatures or fewer diseases and pesticides around. Cultivated beehives have a hard enough time here in the winter themselves, there’s little chance that a swarm will survive the winter and breed. Plus there are lots of beehives around. Based on a little research I did earlier, beekeepers here assume that swarms they find came from another beehive.

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Then it’s safer to mark them captive! As long as you researched that for territory in interest, no problem with marking all of them so.

It just highlights the considerable grey areas that exist for these binary options that we have to select from. If the choice was trinary, then the third option could be chosen for such cases. Then those that want to consider the bees as wild can select “wild” AND “notsure”, but those wanting a search more strictly of “humans haven’t directly helped this persist here” can search “wild” and just not include the “notsure” ones. And someone wanting the captive stuff to include bees could search “captive” and “notsure”, etc…


Example: managed timber. In some areas, each tree seedling is placed, evenly spaced, often in rows. In other areas, “seed trees” are left standing after logging operations to reseed the area for the next stand. Both are managed stands resulting from human decisions, but the “seed tree” approach is less clearly planted than the evenly spaced seedlings approach.