Ethical behaviour when observing and photographing animals

There is an ecologist in the consulting firm that developed the plan, but I don’t think they were aware of the katipo being present. Environmental considerations were largely around dune stabilisation and public use. I contacted them via the council, and they are now aware of the katipo, but because there is not a great deal known about the colony, so I think it is in limbo now until they work out how to proceed. We have an iNatter from the other side of the country that works with the species a great deal (and as far as I am aware, un-permitted!), and I have recommended to the consultants to get in touch with him. i have offered to assist locally here (consultants are in Auckland, very removed from the site!), and I have given the contact details for the scientist/taxonomist/arachnologist that would be best to advise. So they now have contacts to best field experience, best lab experience, and best local knowledge… fingers crossed… :)

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You might be amazed at the impact of a Submission by an amateur with an interest in an area, some knowledge (however recently acquired) and esp with any kind of photos. The people making decisions are seldom specialists or even amateur enthusiasts, and I have found they respond really well to input…if you can find the time to prepare it and are willing to stand up in front of them to present it.

and they seldom bite, (The Hearing Committees:)

Sorry off-topic.

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What about the ethics of chilling insects so they’ll hold still while you take pictures? Does anyone have experience in this area? I only recently heard of this tactic, and, after some research, tried it myself with moths so I could get good, daylight photos. I did have one moth fail to fly away the next morning–it eventually died in the sheltered spot where I left it. I wondered if the chilling had anything to do with it; however, I do know that many moths don’t live long anyway, so it could just be coincidence (all my other moths thus far have flown away after warming up). I have not kept anything in the fridge longer than overnight. I do not want to kill any moths, but if the one death was coincidental, I’d like to continue using this very helpful method!

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Does it ever get to fridge temp outdoors where you are? Here in NZ we do get temps down to 1-4degC at night occassionaly through the winter months, but seldom through the summer. Any insect that is going to be active (ie not in stasis) at such times will likely survive a night in the fridge with no detrimental effects from the cold. Insects that emerge as adults in the summer only are likely to be less assuredly unaffected.

One point I’ll make, is that it may not be the cold that is the problem. A jar is an artifical environment, and the moisture and humidity levels, even down at below 5degC is likely to be very different to what it encounters out in the wild.

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I personally am against cooling for the sole purpose of a photo. With enough patience it is possible to photograph almost anything, as you eventually learn how to pose an animal without it running/flying away. If anyone wants tips for scorpions and snakes I can give some.

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@ kiwifergus Yes, it definitely gets down to refrigerator temps on winter nights here, though it certainly doesn’t reach that range in summer (when I’ve been trying this). I was very skeptical when I first read about the method, but all the sources I’ve read seem to agree that it does not harm moths (or other insects?), and until that one moth, the same seemed true for my attempts. I’d like to hear from any other iNatters who practice this technique, and see if they’ve had any problems.

@ prakrit Hmm—not all creatures are equal when it comes to obtaining a decent photo. It’s unusual for a photo of a flying moth to be identifiable to species level, as opposed to a moving snake or scorpion, or even many other insects whose diagnostic features aren’t obscured by motion. While plenty of moths do stick around long enough to photograph, others get away. If I can capture and cool moths without harming them, I will get good photos of more of them. If I can’t, though, I personally am not willing to knowingly kill moths to get good images.

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I cool insects in the fridge to photograph but I am also collecting most of these (lepidoptera) with the hope of contributing to research. The ones I cool just to photograph will have a reason behind it, like I need to see one up close to learn a differentiating field mark, possibly an unrepresented species in local data and I can’t collect it for some reason (time limitations etc.) but need it to be still to view or some other reason.

If my intention is just to think something looks cool and I want a photo I do not do anything that causes harm or even unnecessary stress. For me cooling is a serious, intentional choice with a purpose but not what I typically do with all of my moth observations.

I have not had a problem with any unplanned deaths. Usually the problem with freed ones is the micros I am most interested in warm up and fly away incredibly quickly.

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I would suspect that the impact of artificial lights on moths (wasted energy, predator attractant etc.) is far greater than that associated with a short stay in the fridge. Indeed, I would bet a moth has a lower mortality rate from spending a night in the fridge than a night flying around in nature! (of course, it is also not getting the chance to reproduce in the fridge).

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Good point. However, once you really get your super lepi-nerdery on you begin to eyeball the pregnant females and let them be or make sure they’ve done their thing. This takes much time and practice though.

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Heh–actually, the very first night I chilled a moth, it laid eggs in the plastic container!! I then raised the caterpillars and got photos of them and of the mature moths after metamorphosis. They will be the first photos of the eggs and larvae of the species on iNat, once I get them posted (there are none on bugguide either). Last step of the reproductive process, anyway!

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Really cool to get observations up linking all life stages, especially where they are guaranteed same species, ie raised on from egg to adult. For many leps the stages are not well known.

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Yes, which probably explains why it’s sometimes so hard to get IDs for larvae. I wouldn’t be surprised if caterpillar raisers on iNat revolutionize visual knowledge of linked life stages; maybe this will happen for other insects, too. Though I did quickly decide today not to raise some assassin bug nymphs that hatched from eggs I’d collected, after discovering they might take a full year to become adults :o But I’m digressing from this thread topic.

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I’m probably going to be a dissenting voice here. I have chilled a lot of moths, and the only deaths (and they have been very few) were moths at the end of their life. @shelley_b, that moth was likely on it’s last legs and it’s response was to do what it was meant to do - lay eggs. Presuming you let the offspring go, the moth had fulfilled it’s purpose. I’ve seen ‘killed’ and pinned moths lay eggs.
A lot of Life forms ‘live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse’. I don’t advocate people actively capturing and killing organisms just to collect them, but as pointed out above, many insects need to be dissected to be clearly identified. Perhaps what we need is some sort of warning to say that a critical mass of preserved specimens has been attained, and there is no need to collect more.
I doubt the stress of having their photograph taken is worse than what many vertebrates will experience in their lives. Birds are routinely trapped and banded, and they seem to recover from that just fine. Some large mammals are tracked by helicopter and tagged. For them it must be extremely stressful, but again, it does not seem to affect them long term. Currently in Canada people are trapping salmon to move to move them past a landfall that has blocked their access to breeding grounds. Whatever stress that may cause is outweighed by the fact that they might breed, rather than not breed at all.
Humans are part of nature whether we like it or not (I’m personally not fond of it), and scale plays a part. If I photograph a migratory bird once or twice, and it is not photographed again, no harm done. If there is one errant bird and a thousand people go to hunt it down, the stress may be too much. Personally, I would not go looking for that bird, for the reasons above. It’s a balancing game - we need the information on species numbers to get a baseline, but while doing it we risk messing up their habitat. That aspect, to me, is more important than taking pictures or holding an animal for a short time. Recently a ‘developer’ ploughed up a piece of bush in my city, a place that was home to all sorts of life forms. For me that is a much bigger issue than chilling a moth for a day.
So overall, use common sense. Photographing may cause some stress, but not enough to stop doing it. Handling is the same. And for God’s sake, don’t go messing up the environment. A non human life form with no place to live is in worse shape than one being photographed.

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Great point! Photographing and sharing raises awareness, which if done right can save habitat.

I’m not sure about this. What we understand about a species today is not necessarily what we will understand tomorrow. Specimens taken over a time period or variety of locales can yield information as much as volume of material from a single place/time. We can’t easily go back and find samples in the form of naturally preserved material, especially for inverts. What we collect in the way of vouchered material now is done so for future science as much as it is for science now.

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Yes, it is a dilemma. An actual specimen allows people to examine trends in many areas that photographs (parasite load, pollution levels &etc) cannot yield. But if every one in this group were to take a preserved specimen, it could have an impact on a population, especially with vertebrates or marginal species. It would be nice if we had some way of knowing which species need a collection, or when (say with moths) a good sample has been attained. I suspect this is beyond the scope of this platform, but I don’t know how ‘connected’ it is to all the other databases.
Personally I would prefer to err on the side of species preservation. The most abundant species are often the first to go extinct in the wild (Bison, Passenger Pigeon & etc). There has to be some sort of balance that can be worked out.

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Just to clarify, the moth that laid eggs while in the refrigerator was a different individual than the one that died the next day. Creepy story about the pinned moths laying eggs, though!

And yes, I did release the raised moths.

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Fair enough, and I had assumed you had released the raised moths! And yeah, the dead (?) moths laying eggs is both creepy and interesting (and I don’t think we raised the moths). Non-vertebrate life can do some very weird things. One of the guys I worked with coined the phrase ‘Permanently dead’. We would freeze flea beetles to kill them, but when they unthawed (Manitoba term!), they would still be moving around. They were not permanently dead, though close. I always feel that we have to throw away the ‘playbook’ when considering invertebrates.

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Perhaps the data we need could be obtained by collecting and preserving a few very common species? Mythimna unipuncta is in no danger of going extinct, yet specimens might yield the information that the future may yield. I’m just thinking aloud here.

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“It just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.” - Miracle Max, The Princess Bride

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Oh, where to begin? This is such a complicated, and important, topic. Humans are a part of Nature and therefore we interact with other parts of Nature, we can’t chose to not impact natural environments, but we can chose how we impact them. I eat a lot of wild food, and so this is something I frequently think about. The vast majority of people I’ve discussed this with seem to think that there is something wrong with harvesting and consuming wild food, but, I ask, is enslaving (domesticating) wild species, growing them in massive monocultures called farms and then buying them at supermarkets and destroying or displacing natural environments in the process really a better option? The area of New York State where I live is overrun with white-tailed deer, there are an estimated 60-70 per square mile in parts of my county, where as “normal” is frequently defined as less than 20. In short, the result is that our forests are failing to regenerate, a massive amount of biodiversity has been lost and invasive species are thriving in these newly disturbed environments; many “common” forest song birds no longer nest here, as their breeding and foraging habitats have been degraded so much. This has happened, in my opinion, because people have become more distanced from these ecosystems and don’t understand what is happening to them, they see it, but they don’t know what it is, or worse, think it is “natural” because humans aren’t directly causing it, though it is most certainly happening because of human action. I personally don’t want to have to begin killing deer, but without doing so, this situation will only worsen; we’ll only continue to lose our forests and wildlife, and so, I must influence the local ecology, but to consciously improve it. I view it as either being responsible for the death of a few deer, or the death of an ecosystem, and I would rather be responsible for the deer. I think the same ethic applies to photography and research as well, there is a time and place for collecting insects, or handling amphibians, but this should only be done if it can broaden our understanding or foster our connection to those species. We can impact our local ecosystems in positive ways but we need to be able to recognize exactly what is a negative impact and what is a positive impact. Our species has lived on this planet for hundreds of thousands of years, but the bulk of the harm we have caused has occurred in the past couple hundred years, did aboriginal peoples really inflict harm upon their environments? There are some cases where I would be predisposed to say ‘yes’, such as the hunting to extinction of many Pleistocene large mammals, but if they still roamed New England, would we have forests, or at least, forests as we know them? Think of it, so many forest-dwelling plants, animals and fungi owe their existence in this region to human action. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it may be bad for mammoths and grasslands, but I can’t call it bad for warblers and forests. My point is that we aren’t limited to negative interactions with Nature and can in fact change it perhaps even for the better. Nature is a system to work with, not against.

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