Eastern/ gray ratsnake complex

I’ve been baffled by this complex for a while now, why does it exist? how did this come to be?

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My understanding is that there are some areas where it’s not really possible to determine the Pantherophis species from just a photo, at least based on current literature, and I also know some of the literature was/is disputed by some people. So a “species complex” on iNat was created to capture this ambiguity and allow people to ID the observation to a taxon that’s finer than genus.

See more about species complexes on iNat here: https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/curator+guide#complexes

You can also check out more recent discussion here: https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/532159


Everyone, including the snake taxonomists, is baffled by this complex. Just a complicated group of populations that doesn’t seem to fit well in any taxonomic arrangement.


For iNat at least, the complex was added to help end an ongoing argument between snake identifiers. It got pretty ugly.


I can’t comment on the taxonomy debate (since I am not qualified to weigh in) other than my continued annoyance as a lay person on biologists splitting and changing species even if merited (makes it hard to keep up–see also wild ginger). But when Eastern Ratsnakes are IDed as the Eastern/ gray ratsnake complex by others, they no longer appear in my observation list (if I search for snakes I observed in 2023), effectively making iNaturalist useless as a way to track what I have observed unless I opt out of community ID rending it casual.

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Ratsnakes show up for me when I search for my records. Some are Eastern others are the complex if in the overlap zone.

If nothing changes in taxonomy, nobody is working with the taxa and nothing is being learned. Changing taxonomy means someone still cares. “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” (Theodosius Dobzhansky)

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It is possible to work with taxa and learn that earlier taxonomists knew what they were talking about.

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