Grouping Domestic Animals with their Non-domestic Counterparts

Currently, iNat treats domestic animals as a subspecies of the main wild species. Although from a genetic point of view this makes sense, it muddles the data of the wild species. For example, the Muscovy Duck is a species native to Central and South America and there aren’t any wild populations outside the range (besides southern Texas). However, due to the introduction of feral populations, the iNat map for the species shows it existing on other continents such as Europe, Asia, and Australia.

The actual range of wild Muscovies doesn’t extend outside the already mentioned Central and South America. This also applies to image data, many don’t recognize the difference between the domestic and wild variations since they are grouped together.

Should domestic species be given further distinction from the wild species?

in the case of Muscovies specifically, there is a var. domestica. so you could distinguish by looking for the species-level observations ( vs the variety-level observations ( that said, it depends on identifiers to make a distinction between the two.

this kind of separation exists in other species, too (ex. pigeons, peas, etc.)


Strange, the link you provided separates domestic and wild Muscovies with the search “Muscovy Duck”. However, I searched the same “Muscovy Duck” and it yielded domestic Muscovies too.

just add a (low rank) lrank=species filter parameter.

also see


Yep, that works. Thank you!

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Taxonomically, one should be able to use the name “Cairina moschata var. moschata” for the wild version. I don’t know if iNaturalist is set up for that. The same thing should work for pigeons (Columbia livia var. livia for the wild one). Not sure about some of the other species, where the domestic version may be the nominate variety/subspecies (the one whose variety or subspecies is the one that repeats the species name).

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iNat does have “Cairina moschata var. moschata” it just hasn’t been used many times.

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this would give you the species excl. just the var. domestica:


This complicates the replies that have been given. It is very well to exclude var. domestica, but if people don’t know that the domesticated ones are different, they may just identify them as the species.

Yes, this is certainly an issue. The are tons of domestic Muscovies ID’ed as “Muscovy Duck” since the Computer Vision doesn’t prioritize subspecies and thus Domestic Muscovy Duck as an ID isn’t recommended.

Identifiers who know the difference have to manually fix the ID. Personally, I don’t think this problem can be completely fixed without changing the way the Computer Vision works.

iNat currently only requires a species ID for research grade, so I think it is unlikely that the entire system be changed to recommend subspecies just for domestic animals.

That’s why I think domestics should be treated as something else entirely, rather than a subspecies.

Biologists and archaeologists who work on faunal remains have grappled with this question of naming wild forms vs. domestic forms. This paper by Gentry, Clutton-Brock, and Groves from 2004 is an interesting discussion of the topic:


I wrote up the following a few years ago [added note: it was not for iNat but for a different discussion elsewhere] to address this question of what we do taxonomically with wild vs domestic derivatives in mammals, but it could apply to other organisms as well. I still think our approach to naming is rather messy but I don’t have a good answer.

The recognition of subspecies has declined in recent years and, as we know, many still-recognized mammal subspecies have never been properly evaluated genetically. But, as far as I know, the subspecies concept as defined by Mayr and Ashlock (1991, Principles of Systematic Biology) still holds and has not been significantly reinterpreted:

“ … an aggregate of phenotypically similar populations of a species inhabiting a geographic subdivision of the range of that species and differing taxonomically from other populations of that species.”

Which to me raises a problem with using a subspecies designation to denote the domesticated form. Almost any domesticated mammal is the product of many generations of selective breeding and is at least potentially derived from various source populations and multiple distinct wild lineages. The subspecies in these cases is not denoting a geographically-defined natural variant of a more widespread species, it is describing a human-selected form (or forms) of the wild type, possibly derived from various geographically-separated sources that might not yet be identified. In some cases, the history of a domesticated form might never be fully unraveled as now-extinct wild forms may have been involved.

The domesticated form is a different animal, but still capable of interbreeding with its wild counterpart, so it potentially can be considered as conspecific. But it doesn’t fit the definition of subspecies as has been recognized for all other mammals. So what is it?

For practical reasons, I think the domesticated form should be recognized as a separate nominal species from its wild counterpart since the species designation captures the unique ancestry (which in most cases is not fully known) of that animal and doesn’t presuppose any equivalency with any natural subspecies in the wild species. Thus: Equus caballus (domesticated horse) and Equus ferus (wild horse; tarpan); Capra hircus (domesticated goat) and Capra aegagrus (wild goat; bezoar); Felis catus (domesticated cat) and Felis silvestris (wild cat); etc.

Yes, it runs counter to the biological species concept, but if you view this arrangement through the phylogenetic species concept, the approach makes more sense. It’s evident that a domesticated form, whatever its history, is on a separate evolutionary trajectory (thanks to human intervention) compared to the wild form (or forms) from which it was derived. And the species designation – moreso than the subspecies – would make clear when you’re talking about the domesticated animal vs. wild.

Using this arrangement, it follows that a feral population derived from the domesticated form would still be recognized by its domesticated species name. Rather than feral domesticated populations of Equus ferus or E. ferus caballus here in western North America, we have feral E. caballus.


On iNat it makes sense to treat the domesticated forms as separate species for practical reasons. However, in the case of serious systematics, each case should be treated separately. Different animals, different history of domestication, changes during its course, relationships with wild counterparts, etc.


I would agree, this method would a create a clear separation between the wild and domestic species and in turn, fix the ID issue where subspecies aren’t recommended and remain obscure.

I think the longer a domestic animal exists, the more it differs from it’s wild ancestors. It would be harder to convince a dog owner that their Golden Retriever is a wolf than it would
be to convince a farmer that their domestic duck is a Mallard.

But where would crosses fit in to this? Crossing of wild and feral animals is common, and their offspring carry both of their parents’ genetics. A Duclair Duck is a mix of domestic and wild Mallards but has been established as a breed. They can be created through breeding but also through wild-feral crossing.

Would the two ‘types’ be classified differently?

I agree that domestic animals should be considered different than their wild counterparts, for INat purposes. Just look at how many “red junglefowl” observations there are all over the world- none of those are junglefowl! They’re all chickens. A lot of them aren’t even labeled as domestic chickens, just as junglefowl. If I’m trying to learn about red junglefowl, this isn’t any help to me.

It seems like INat would benefit from having domesticated animals sorted as something entirely different from their wild counterparts. Even if they are technically the same species, a chicken is not the same animal as a junglefowl. A red junglefowl running loose in Texas would be of particular note, a feral chicken running wild in Texas isn’t interesting at all.

Of course, this is probably going to end up being a subjective thing. But in the cases of animals that are very common as ferals and are frequently being misidentified as their wild counterparts, there should be an entirely separate entry for domestics, as if they’re a separate species. There can’t be that many species that would need to be evaluated to possibly be given their own listing.

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Your example is a complicated one and not a unique situation. There might not be a good answer, or an ideal category to be created on iNat, to properly assign a wild cross versus a captive cross involving the same two forms. It’s certainly possible to make such categories but it could be somewhat messy. But there are hybrid taxa, and even cross-genera hybrid taxa, that already exist on iNat to deal with those situations for other waterfowl (and other organisms) so it probably depends on the need for creating these new classifications to address an ID issue.

Well, domesticated chickens aren’t really much different from wild ones, especially regular ones you see around, those used for eggs, they might eat more and have genetical advances to get bigger faster, have some allels that change their colour or how some feathers grow, but normal-looking chicken is really close to wild one, there’s nothing that make it a different species, we, iders, mark them as domestic chickens, and if you see those ided at higher level - reid them, and same goes to feral pigeons, who are actually species mix, and all they get on iNat is a “variety” which is a botanical term.

They’re very similar animals, but, again, there’s a big difference for our uses. If I see a Red Junglefowl running loose in Texas, that’s weird. If I see a feral chicken running loose in Texas, that’s not weird at all.

Search “Red Junglefowl” in observations. They’re native to Asia, so any sightings not in Asia are almost guaranteed to be chickens, but most are misIDed. Correcting that would require a lot of work, and it’s a problem that would just recur as soon as someone misIDed the next chicken.

Besides, searching for “Red Junglefowl” turns up both observations identified as junglefowl, and observations identified as chickens. If I was trying to learn about Red Junglefowl, that would make INat entirely useless to me.

I can’t think of any reason for “Red Junglefowl- Gallus gallus” and “Domestic Chicken- Gallus gallus domesticus” to NOT be two different species entries on INat. It would help stop people from misidentifying chickens as junglefowl, it would make it easier to find and correct misidentified chickens, and it would mean that searching Red Junglefowl would show only junglefowl and not chickens.

Problem is in cv not suggesting taxa below species most of the time, like, you have to type those in every time, but yeah, I ided quite a few chickens in Texas.) iNat needs to have “variety” for wild ones, if there’re no ssp., for pigeons there’s none and I agree there should be, but different species is still too much taxonomically.

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