How to mark obviously out of range organisms

Here is an observation of saltwater species found far from saltwater:

Is it appropriate to mark it some way so it becomes casual? If so how?


You could mark “Location is inaccurate” in the DQA, but it looks like the location is accurate, the placement of the organism itself is not. So I’m not entirely sure what to do in this case.


I noticed that the same observer documented yet another (apparently different) Texas Lightning Whelk nine days later in the same area:
That observation has been marked “Location is inaccurate” but since all the other observations by this observer during July 2020 were in the same general area, I am inclined to believe that the location of the observation is correct. My suspicion is that these were a couple of souvenir objects dumped locally, either thrown or washed into the river. I would suggest marking these as “No” for “Organism is wild?” in the DQA.


Yes, good idea. Marking the organism “not wild” is what I do in cases where a seashell was found out in the wild but far from where it could possibly have lived.

Assuming of course that it is not a fossil seashell that did come out of geological sediments in that locality, in which case I mark it “not recent” instead.


This leads to a real life discussion of “how much can a swallow carry”, from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Is there any way this could have been carried to the Austin area from the coast by natural means? If someone was walking on the sea shore and it crawled onto their boots, and they later drove back to Austin, saw it on their boots (or other gear), and threw it out, it would have reached the area naturally (if inadvertently). Same thing if it would have crawled up the leg of a wading bird, like a heron,and hung on attached to a heron, that flew to Austin. I know that isn’t probable, but is it possible? Or maybe some crows found it and carried it as a toy.

There are a lot of explanations for how something could have ended up out of its range, and so do we dismiss them without knowing?

Those things might not apply to this observation, but there are lots of other cases where they could. The other day, I found a disembodied, good condition rabbit tail (we think), lying on a post in a state park. Did a person shoot a rabbit, cut off the tail, and leave it there? Or did a mammal or bird discard it there? It looks like an artificial place, but it is not really possible to tell.

I had a similar issue with this observation:

The conclusion we arrived at was the insect had found its way onto the observer’s car in Arizona, and ended up hitching a ride all the way back to his home in SoCal.

The question is how to mark this? The organism is wild, so we can’t call it captive. It isn’t really an introduced species either, and that wouldn’t affect Research Grade status anyway. How can we annotate observations for organisms that are obviously transplanted like this?

There are a lot of grey areas in iNat. I would call that cicada observation as wild… if it ended up in someones gear, and was inadvertantly carried to that location, then there is the very real chance that it has ended up in someone elses gear as well… Every taxon will have a range in which it can exist and breed and thrive, and there will be a zone around that in which it can “reach” but not persist. It is still a valid wild observation, but a transient or vagrant rather than an established species. iNat doesn’t really have a direct mechanism for marking these vagrant observations, but it is certainly worth highlighting in comments and/or description. Anyone working with amending range maps and so on would be looking at outliers like these, and deciding whether they establish evidence of the species being persistant at that location, so the more information about any unusual observations that you can give, the better.


See discussion raised here:

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I think I can confidently say that a Lightning Whelk as large as either of these two shells could not have been accidentally transported on someone’s boot or other gear, and also could not have been carried by a gull that far. As for crows, I really don’t know what they are capable of.

I just know that the #1 reason that shells end up in weird places is because a human brought them there and dropped them, or threw them away. Humans do stuff like that all the time.

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Way too much color to be fossilized. I’d agree that someone likely chucked them out. Or maybe they were in someone’s beachcombing bucket, that person took the bucket to the river for other purposes, and accidentally lost the shells?
I’d say that tagging it as not wild might be a good idea. It didn’t come to that area of its own accord, and I really doubt anything wild would hold onto a shell for long enough to carry it that far inland. Lightning whelks wouldn’t crawl onto someone’s boot and hold on out of the water, either, plus that’s awfully big.

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I don’t think there’s any need to mark it as anything! It is a wild organism that ended up where it was likely because of unintentional human action. With regard to range maps based on observations generated on iNat there needs to be scrutiny on the behalf of the observer of the map. That falls on them. I wouldn’t worry about it.

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Neither do I, and that is my secret to being able to fall asleep at night.


I don’t know why you assume that these lightning whelk shells are “wild organism[s] that ended up where [they were] likely because of unintentional human action.”

Most seashells are deliberately transported from A to B by humans. And when the shells are abandoned or thrown away, that is usually a deliberate action too.

My reply was to easmeds about their bug they thought was transported via car. I wasn’t commenting on the seashells!

Oh I see! Sorry about that! I should have looked more carefully!

The problem with allowing the cicada observation to remain research grade is that it gives the ID suggestion algorithm a justification for offering that ID. A user who uploads a cicada from SoCal might be given the suggestion, notice that it says “Seen Nearby”, and assume it’s correct.

This is not a massive problem for CA cicada observations since I will check anything uploaded to the western US anyway. But we can’t pretend that this is the only observation on iNaturalist where something like this has happened, and each one has the potential to create issues that someone will end up needing to clean up.


This is absolutely true over the wide range of organisms we might detect “out of range”, but in the particular case of a sizeable saltwater gastropod found 135 mi (220 km) off of the coast, it is unlikely in the extreme to have been transported by any non-human mechanism, or even accidental human transport. Especially after we learned that at least two different shells of the same species showed up at the same location. Occam’s Razor applies here: The simplest explanation is probably the correct one. This is an abundant, conspicuous, and often-collected coastal shell species which is thereafter transported to any/every location by the beach visitors when they return home across Texas and beyond. For instance, I wouldn’t be surprised if many, many homes in the Austin area have one or more Texas Lightning Whelk’s displayed on a bookshelf or stuffed in a drawer…ready sources for throwaways!


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