Negative effect of citizen science and inaturalist

That is much clearer! I think you have cleared up most of the misunderstandings now :)

If there are indeed a large proportion of mis-ID’d observations, then it is definitely worthwhile to organise an iNatter group to clean up the IDs. The project coordinators should be active in that regard too, especially as they are likely to hold a good level of expertise on the species and it’s look-alikes. Often it requires several IDs to counter the incorrect ones, so a small group that each work through the same filter view, so that they can confirm each others IDs (assuming agreement of course) without having to resort to tagging. We had this scenario when we cleaned up Hypoblemum albovitattum which changed in NZ to Hypoblemum griseum.

With regards to the likelihood of increasing the kills on the wasps and non-target species, I think you point out that in this case it seems to be mostly live animal photos. These type of projects do operate at scale. It is indeed important to consider any increased impacts from such activity. However, I think it is unlikely that the “non-target losses” from collateral killings would be greater than the “non-target savings” from having killed a number of target species. I’m basing this on the high likelihood from the information available that this is a predatory invasive.

For me, it highlights the need to be extra vigilant on projects that operate at scale, or that are being scaled up. It is just as relevant for when large scale bioblitzes operate and put a large number of observations into iNat without having ironed out the “bugs” in their processes first. A teacher might make a few observations, for instance, and then implement it into their classwork, when they should perhaps trial it with a few students to see how it goes first. Processes and their impacts don’t always scale predictably…


Housecrows, in skimming this your explanation I completely understand now what you mean. As for language, I hear ya. English is a bear of a language. :grin: Thank you for continuing to explain and clarify what you meant.

Yeah, the misID problem can sadly be common with projects that aren’t or can’t be watched by the people running it. You’re right in that the best thing is to get people involved in correcting IDs. And I totally understand you trying your best to not start any debates, haha!

I can throw a link to the area/project on unofficial Discord channel to see if anyone’s good with stinging insect species, especially for this area. Could you give us a link to an affected area and/or project?

I got it the first time housecrows, and agree…I have the same concern about plants. We have a huge problem with invasive plants in NZ, and there are many plants misidentified and mistakenly destroyed, both on private and pubic land, as the “bad ones” get lots of publicity, but the native look-alikes don’t. Hence I, like others, have in the past removed plants because I thought they were the well-publicized invasives.

That was pre-iNat, but the same can occur with people wanting to do the right thing and looking at misidentified plants on inat.
It’s one reason I don’t do many identifications.

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Can you share how the project encourages this?

I can’t really speak for the OP, but I think the issue they’re referring to is people killing sonething that looks like a certain species, and incorrect IDs reinforcing that. Kind of like how the northern watersnake gets misidentified as a copperhead, leading people to kill it.

It’s not something that’s iNat or a project’s fault, but something we could try to combat.


I will be back with some proper replies tomorrow (ok tuesday)
the project i’m talking about is linked to user ID vespawatch


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In the future, best thing to do would be to message the user directly (as it looks like you’ve done since this original post). Try to give the person the benefit of the doubt and understanding their perspective before bringing it up here.

We’ve been in touch with them over the past few weeks. Not ideal use of inat, and we asked them to add some copy in a few places to encourage folks to make their own iNaturalist accounts. I believe anyone who submits to Vespawatch knows it’s going to iNat.

My guess is that at this scale, it’s not really an issue, and the potential for creating educated folks who won’t immediately kill any hymenopteran is greater than the downside. As a snake lover and snake identifier, I get pretty sad and angry when I see someone has killed a snake (regardless of whether it was potentially dangerous), but I try to use the opportunity to educate rather than admonish, the latter of which isn’t helpful, in my experience. So I think there are opportunities for a beneficial impact in these situations.


thanks for the reply tiwane, and thanks for taking up the matter with the project-team.

I had contacted the user, at the time not exactly realising how it worked. When i didn’t get a reply and i saw still more entries of people stating that they slapped the hornet and photographed it (some hoverfly) I thought it wise to make a forum post without mentioning the username or site at first. And stating that i didn’t know if I was being sensible or oversensitive. I did give them the benefit of the doubt, but i still wanted to be more than just a bystander.

Of course you can argue that this is small fry…but since big issues are often hard to address, I think some attention to small issues might help in the long run.

Will be back with more replies to earlier remarks in this thread…gotta go now.


  1. Generally, iNat encourages people to be more willing to observe animals they might otherwise regard with hostility.
  2. Someone who killed an insect, then photographed it, did not necessarily kill the insect for the purpose of photographing it.
  3. The person who inadvertently imported Asian hornets in some pottery is responsible for the deaths of very large numbers of European insects.

Efforts to combat invasive species deserve our support. As we all know, invasive species have eradicated native species around the globe.

Asian hornets may not be poised to eradicate any European species, but they have spread rapidly in Europe and appear to be a serious problem. According the the Wikipedia article – – they repeatedly return to honeybee colonies to capture returning bees. They may also reduce the populations of insect species that are of less economic importance but are already struggling to survive.


Dear housecrows and all others,

Thank you for your feedback on our project, for forwarding it to our vespawatch mailbox and for the discussion on this forum.

Indeed, a lot of pictures are posted of European hornets beaten to death, also common and german yellowjacket, and rather rarely other species which are confused with Asian hornets by the public. I guess this could be a general issue when running surveys on any unpopular critter such as snakes, spiders, scorpions and the like. In general, we hope the awareness raising performed through our citizen science project and the management actions that result from the surveillance effort, outweigh the negatives of some collateral on native wasps and insects. Our target audience is the general public, and compared to the naturalists, there is a lot to be done there in terms of public support for insect conservation and knowledge about insect identification. As our target audience is mostly the general public (more than the trained naturalists that have mostly already found their way to the Belgian recording portal, we chose to additionally build a website which allows submitting records without mandatory registration but which syncs records to the iNaturalist Vespawatch account so data are openly available and can be validated.

A lot of points have been raised already in this discussion, but we wanted to add some further elements for clarification and consideration:

  • firstly, the project is not in any way promoting the destruction of insects. On the contrary, Vespawatch’s main goal is to make people aware that there are several hornet species, make them aware about native wasps and their ecological significance and the impact of the invasive Asian hornet on biodiversity. So the “kill first, ID later” mentality is absolutely not what we are trying to achieve. In the bigger scale of things, we are also convinced non-target effects of management are important to consider when deciding on risk management options for invasive species.
  • Since professional eradication services now make the distinction between the species, hornet nests are no longer indiscriminately destroyed which already saves an awful lot of insects on the whole (you could call this a positive spin-off of the invasion but the awareness on insects is already ongoing for a longer period of time).
  • none of the species reported so far are legally protected in Flanders (north Belgium) with the exception of a (live) Libellula depressa
  • Many of the dead insects would also unknowingly die in the living room without our project, we hope that through Vespawatch at least some members of the public will start IDing the species first.
  • We aspire some members of the public will grow an interest and start using iNaturalist themselves.
  • The recording module on our website is very visual and clearly shows the most confused species We considered a chatbot to help with identification but that was financially unfeasible for our project. The recording form also calls upon people “Please don’t kill insects unnecessarily” (although many people probably don’t read this).
  • We give people feedback in case of an observation and call on them not to kill insects unnecessarily in the future.
  • The impact of a few killed workers is probably negligible for social insects at both colonial and population level (not so for queens).
  • We take the season into account when planning our communication in the press (which may lead to an upsurge in photos of killed insects) i.e. we only start our communication campaign late in the spring, when the Asian hornet is active and the probability of killing queens of European hornet is lower since they are already safely in the nest.
  • Lastly: yes, of course we monitor observations, provide feedback to observers, try to build an active and engaged community (organizing ivy blitzes and nest searches, giving lectures and training etc.) and are very active in validating observations. We would also like to thank everyone who contributes to this effort!

I’m reluctantly returning to the subject.
To Nancy: people who enter information in Inaturalist directly do this knowingly and are often aware of nature preservation, however slight.
People who entered info on the Belgian website were only adding to inaturalist indirectly and there’s a fair chance they don’t have the same awareness as the average inatter.

To Vespa-watch
I understand the need and urge to investigate the spread of an invasive introduced species like Asian Hornet.
I was not suggesting the site is promoting the slaying of innnocent insects. i said it enabled the killing by promoting to offer evidence of As. Hornets to the website.

I think the people that upload information to the vespa-site don’t really know what happens after they’ve uploaded a photo. BUT that is an assumption. I don’t know what happens after a wrongfully ID-d record is uploaded and corrected at INAT.
The uploaders of AHornet records are likely not the usual inaturalist-users. They have little incentive to return to this site and whether they will learn from their mistakes… I don’t know.

Your other points I generally agree with of course. But I still think that alarmism* is harmful for the insect-world and caution is needed when asking the general (including a vast majority of non-naturalists) public to help this project forward.

*Your attitude and scientific approach is far from alarmist, but that doesn’t stop social-media driven concerned citizens from seeing the alarm in your website’s call to action.

Insects have had a bad press, and still get a bad press. In order to change the general attitude I think we need to be extra, extra, extra cautious with citizen science projects directed at diminishing the threat of a specific insect.

Good to know btw that there is a follow-up to people adding wrongly ID’d records

thanks for the replies, and thanks especially to those who take the time to verify Vespa’s ID’s.


PS. If I missed an important point: i am sorry, feel free to point that out to me

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I ws recently concerned to hear of an environmental organisation eveloping and promoting the use of an app that will indirectly “provide identification” of plants, with the intention the plant-spotting would then be acted on re invasive weeds, ie plants would be destroyed. The person organising it believed, and had presumably conveyed to funders, that iNat RG IDs wereonly able to be made by people of a certain level of expertise.

That scared me, and I doubt they changed their already-well-developed plans when I told them that an iNat ID is not always correct.


That might be something to take up with inat-staff.


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I think that’s what I am doing by posting here:)

The forum is not specifically “staff”, they do participate here, but the forum is “everyone”. Staff are more likely to follow bug-reports and feature requests, especially now that the forum participation is growing. I think what @housecrows means is to more exlicitly bring it to their attention.

@tiwane Jenny raised a matter a couple posts above that might be of interest to you…


@kiwifergus: I assume “Jenny” = @kaipatiki_naturewatc? I don’t know first names of most users.

@kaipatiki_naturewatc thanks - I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “I ws recently concerned to hear of an environmental organisation eveloping and promoting the use of an app that will indirectly “provide identification” of plants, with the intention the plant-spotting would then be acted on re invasive weeds, ie plants would be destroyed.” - was iNaturalist the app they were promoting? It sounds like it, but the sentence is unclear.

If so, this isn’t the first time this has happened. I don’t believe we’ve ever specified that experts make IDs, but I have seen other media outlets do that and it becomes a game of telephone, unfortunately, and tough to rein in.


@kaipatiki_naturewatc I’m sorry my answer may have appeared a bit short…bordering on unfriendly.
I see your point and I do think it is somewhat worrisome. At least it’s something Inat-policy makers should be aware of. People will use the site with other purposes in mind that sometimes go against the policy of Inaturalist.
I don’t think hasty changes have to be made, and communication-plans altered to suit my or our needs.
I do feel that we inatters need to be aware of the fact and rather vigilant.
One dead animal won’t kill them all, but still…I prefer animals alive and well in photos rather than hunted for no reason other than their resembling a target-species of a well meaning naturalist/scientist who figured out a way to get the general public involved in his/her monitoring project by the use of the database of inaturalist…without thinking through (or being able to think through) the consequences for inat or the innocent lookalikes involved.



@tiwane Thanks. The only thing I thought of that could help would be to make a more unable-to-miss-seeing-it disclaimer, or warning to organisations…but I realise people often don’t read much anyway, and there are so many things that need to be top-level visibility…perhaps just being aware of it and stressing it in workshops etc…its the downside of popularization. I have vastly increased local awareness of iNat, and its value and potential value, and have been generally disappointed in the use made of it. EG using it to “get IDs”, with little or no interaction with the community, or awareness that ID depends on following that intereaction. And uses of it like this, to replace human beings in the field…sigh. As if we needed even less people in the field.

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No problem at all:) We don’t always have time for a lengthy chat. I agree, its being aware of the potential for destructive use of iNat, and - in my case - I will stop encouraging people to check it out if I don’t have time and opportunity to some assessment of their likely use.

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