Negative effect of citizen science and inaturalist

Some scientists in Belgium use inaturalist - so it seems - to let the public enter data in inaturalist about hornets: if someone thinks they spotted/photographed/killed a hornet they can submit a photo of the alleged perp which is then submitted to inaturalist and enters the verification cycle here.

All very well…but since inaturalists are people just as we all are, some reported hornets end up being confirmed as hornet while in fact they are either bumblebees, hover flies, bees or paper wasps.

This project appears to me to enable the “kill first, ID later” mentality… or am I wrong here.

NB. I’m not trying to badmouth a fellow member, i’m just questioning the method…and my own judgment…

Am I being too sensitive maybe?

Hope to hear from you

Gerb n


What an interesting question. I’d argue that if someone is curious enough to upload a bumblebee to iNaturalist and finds out it was a bumblebee not a hornet, that person will probably not be a bumblebee killer in the future. So I think the practice has the potential of saving far more bumblebees than it kills.


So the concern is that people are killing hornets so they can take a pic and post on iNat, but some people are killing other insects that they mistake as hornets, and that this is happening in such large numbers that it might negatively impact the populations of those other insects?


Chances are they were going to kill it whether they heard of iNaturalist or not. This way they might find out that it wasn’t a hornet and not kill them in the future.

I take it that hornets are an invasive species there?


I am a member of many ‘gardening’ pages on other social media platforms (yes, facebook). And i would argue that those ‘kill first’ people (and i agree there are heaps), would tend to not go to the trouble of logging in a biodiversity platform.
Having said that, if they did at least they would learn the difference from all the non-kill first people.

I guess my point in a nut shell is those people exist regardless of the citizen science platform, and at least this way we get an opportunity to educate some of them and change their ways.


In Germany as well as parts of Austria the European Hornet is a protected species. So a project that would encourage people to upload the evidence of a deliberate killing might result in legal consequences.


How is that any different than the way typical biodiversity surveys of insects is performed by professionals though? I’ve done several surveys professionally, and it usually involves setting traps that kill hundreds of specimens, and then IDing them afterwards. Given how many insects can’t be definitively ID’d without dissection or microscopic examination, it’s still considered ideal to examine dead specimens to arrive at IDs rather than trying to photograph everything. It also allows large numbers of sites to be sampled at once; I’ve recorded 350 species of moths in a few hours all over a property by setting bucket traps in different habitats and sorting through them in the morning; you could never accomplish that by just walking around with a camera for a few hours. My point is that killing a specimen to ID it later is common practice in a professional setting, it’s usually performed on a much larger scale than just a few hundred people killing a potential hornet, and it doesn’t have a significant impact on the populations of most insects. Driving a car to see and photograph a rare bird smashes pollinators all over the windshield, way more overall than people killing bugs to ID them, but you rarely hear anyone complaining about that. I don’t think it’s an issue. Under-collecting in areas with draconian anti-collecting laws hampering knowledge of difficult-to-observe insects presents a bigger danger to conservation than people killing insects to learn more about them.


I don’t think you’re being too sensitive, but I admit I’m a little confused. Are you talking about cases where someone is collecting an insect to dissect, or people submitting photos of crushed insects, not realizing that they’re actually harmless? Or is it that insects are being misIDed as other insects, possibly encouraging someone who killed an insect thinking it was something that could hurt them to kill any others that look like it? All cases could present challenges, in my opinion.

I think the first one would depend on the number of insects being collected, and whether that’s affecting populations. If it isn’t, I figure the knowledge gained could help others understand and possibly help that species in the future, especially as many insects can’t be IDed without close examination.

The second speaks more about maybe someone commenting to a person that photos of killed insects don’t really help much, since you don’t even have the benefit of examining the insect to offset the death, and sometimes people don’t realize just how harmless a lot of insects are.

The third is something we have to help in educating. The iNat AI is only as smart as we are, so if there’s wrong IDs out there, they need to be corrected to avoid the AI associating the wrong insect with the wrong species.

I’d also say hornets get a bad wrap, but I’m thinking of the species here in the US. Could be a different story where you are. :)


thanks for your replies, I think i need to explain a little further. If my English would have been better, I think less questions would have arisen. Sorry about that.

to clarify I should have added the website these records end up on:
AGAIN: not to blacklist or badmouth the user, just to clarify

@janetwright that sounds good but this site is directed at citizens reporting asian hornets. I don’t think many of them will see more than the record they have submitted.

the concern is that killing of hornet lookalikes is enabled by this citizen science project.
There’s no immediate threat of extinction but I guess an insect saved is worth it.

@clay_s @TriciaStewart Inaturalist is only a database in this issue, for the recorders.
I don’t think people actually are aware they enter material in inat-database, they just submit a record of ‘Asian Hornet’ to a dedicated website.

@clay_s European hornets are spreading northwards, but this project is started because of introduced Asian hornet-species which is apparently dangerous for European honeybees since they have no defense mechanism against Asian hornets.
(allegedly). This science project is supported by the Belgian beekeeping community.

@TriciaStewart you may be right, now we have at least a chance of letting people know what the ‘real danger’-species looks like.
Since starting this thread I have messaged the user asking them to stress the differences between the Asian hornets and other insects on their homepage.
Maybe that will ease the pain a bit.

@carnifex I don’t think any hornet is a protected species in the Netherlands or Belgium.

@paul_dennehy This is a citizen science project where laymen find a platform for their hornet-records.
The idea is to monitor the spread of asian hornets in Belgium. It might inadvertently promote the killing of innocent lookalikes by laymen.
In my eyes the end justifies the means in many insect studies -not all; if an individual insect can be saved, that’s a plus.
In this study I think more effort should have been made to help people distinguish between one and the other…to avoid future senseless killing of vulnerable bees/bumblebees/wood wasps/hover flies etcetera.

I forgot to address this issue clearer. For an inaturalist ID only two species-ID-confirmations are needed. If some layman submits a bumblebee as asian hornet and only one other inaturalist user confirms that ID, the bumblebee will end up in the database as Asian Hornet unless some other inaturalist comes along to correct the wrong ID.
At inaturalist it’s just one mis-ID’d record. For the mentioned website it might mean more innocents get killed as they are wrongfully id’d here.

Luckily sofar most faulty ID’s are corrected. But in this case some vigilance is required as belgian insect lives depend on it… It may be a small thing, but still

As i said, I may be oversensitive but I think it is something to address and not something to dismiss solely on the fact that extensive insect killing is done for a project by established scientists.


If this is the case, I wonder if they might be at odds with the iNaturalist Terms of Service? @tiwane?

Apparently you don’t have to be an inaturalist-member to submit a record. The site provides a script that lets you record a sighting which ends up on the website’s inaturalist account. The only requirement is a phonenumber, name and emailaddress.

It might be a wonderful tool for all sorts of projects but here there’s an increased risk of innocent insects being killed as a result of using inaturalist.

If the end users are not aware that they are submitting data to iNaturalist, how would iNaturalist be able to influence their insecticidal behavior?

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I’ve informed the user of the fact that i’ve started this thread…I thought that fairer.
To be fairer still: information on confusion species is clear and well documented but I doubt people will see it since it’s not clear for all to see on the frontpage or recording-page. Also a call to not kill randomly is added.

-Inaturalist can help the cause by stressing that users of inaturalist information should do everything possible to avoid senseless killing of in this case innocent insects*
-the negative effect of layman’s confirmations is small but apparent here. Waspwatchers may find a good reason here to double check belgian hornet records now.
I’m double checking many Japanese records (birds/butterflies/dragonflies) as a personal training device. Maybe some waspwatchers can do the same for belgium.

*note that I’m trying to steer clear of established science projects aimed at increasing knowledge about that specific species or group of species.

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this looks like the cat argument in another guise… I’m personally more on the side of the native bees these things would be preying upon.

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I think @paul_dennehy said it best but I want to jump in with a thought as a recovering overly-sensitive person:

I have just begun collecting as an amateur who hopes to help shed light on the unknown, lesser understood or mostly ignored insect species…specifically micro-lepidoptera (small and older moth families). I used to be a wanton murderer of insects and arachnids out of fear. Then, I became upset by what I had done after learning more about the realities of the “threats” most insects pose (in my region very very few). After overcompensating for years and stressing and worrying I have found a place closer to a balance through my participation in this community. The point I am making is that while the path circuitous, I have come to respect and understand insects far more through careful study and now by collecting and dissecting. This wouldn’t have happened without iNaturalist and the community. Part of the beauty of the evolving organism that is iNat is that one can grow in their knowledge and adjust behaviors as the community educates and reflects back information.

“established science projects” don’t necessarily exist for the things we need to study the most that have the least interest in the scientific community. This means citizen science plays a crucial role when we are poised on the verge of a massive bio-diversity loss. More hands, learning as we go, can make an impact and I am nervous about dissuading anyone from taking an insect to learn from it.

If you have an intention to learn and contribute then no one should feel badly about taking an insect to help the whole population. That doesn’t mean people should kill anything for fun or get off on it. I just had r vs. k selection explained to me again and we could all use a reminder about the reproductive differences between mammals and insects.

I think the sensitivity is nice in that it represents a type of deep caring but it can actually get in the way (especially when one can confuse feelings with facts) of real solutions to conservation and other pressing issues.


@kiwifergus Sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying here.

@mira_l_b I tried to steer clear of this argument since that is something quite different.
I have nothing against science and citizen’s science… ‘contrariwise’. but both are not the issue here.
If you don’t mind I’d prefer to get back on topic…

sorry, if that may have been unclear from my earlier posts here.


You have concern about the impact of that project on the hornets, but do you understand what the project is about?

It says it’s about monitoring the invasion of Asian Hornet in Belgium. I’m not so much concerned about the impact it has on those Asian Hornets, I don’t mind so much them being culled I guess, unless there’s lots of collateral damage which seems to be the case here
I tried to state in my first 2 posts in this thread what my worries are.


Perhaps there is a translation issue because I fail to see how my addressing the points you’ve made about killing insects, negative impact of citizen science and the rest is off topic

Your topic title: “Negative effect of citizen science and iNaturalist”

You seemed to be questioning the taking/ killing of insects…and again here:

Not to mention all of the others who also mention taking/killing/surveying/collecting to whom I was responding. I guess I don’t really understand your comments at all then.

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I am sorry for not being able to make my points clearly and without rubbing people the wrong way… I will give it another go.

With this thread I was hoping to get some views on the use (for of citizen science and inaturalist as a database and a community.

I was trying to avoid the general discussion over killing/sampling insects for science purposes or science/citizen science itself because that is a much bigger issue with strong defenders and opposers that tends to push to the background the specifics of this project i tried to highlight here (and failed admittedly)

“kill first, ID later” might be acceptable for science purposes but then the killing is conducted by a scientist or at least closely monitored by a scientist (or done by cats or cars)

It seems to me that vespa-watch aims to promote recording and photographing asian hornets. They do not promote killing the insects, they do stress (clearly, but not on the homepage) the confusion species.
However the result is that people photograph (and often kill) many lookalikes to be able to record their sighting of what they perceive to be asian hornet.

Sofar 1900 records have been submitted to vespa-watch through their inaturalist account. Out of these 1900 10% has been positively ID’d as Asian Hornet (Vespa velutina). The records involve at least 36 other species that were labeled Asian Hornet by the vespa-watch citizen scientists. NB. most photos are of live animals or nests.

I wonder if everything is thought through at vespa watch hq, I also wonder whether we as inaturalist-users are willing to help a project like this along by id-ing their ‘catch’

Again: i think i am not against culling introduced species, when they pose a threat to native species. I don’t know if that is the case here.

I hope I have eased the tension which i seem to have caused earlier.

It’s bl**dy difficult sometimes to get your point across in your own language, let alone in your 2nd.