Parasites identification and mapping in iNaturalist

Dear iNat community,
based on discussion with my fellows we came to an idea that iNaturalist could serve not only for “normal biodiversity” observations, but could also be used in actual veterinary and human parasitology, for research, education and awareness raising.
Parasites are omnipresent, some species are medically and economically important. Several parasitic species are invasive. Many parasitic organisms or their larvae, eggs etc. can be identified to necessary precision if picture, measurement, tissue/host and locality are combined. We can rarely reach the species level, but is is often not needed.
We had an idea of a project based on field veterinarians, vet sudents in practical classes, enthusiasts who would be collecting and uploading pictures of their finds and getting approximate identification. I am not sure whether specific category “parasites” would help ot not. Specifically in case of parsites of domestic animals involvement of just several research bodies could provide a lot of data and expertise.
iNaturalist could eventualy act also as a tool to help improving animal health (and human in extenso). It is however quite tricky area, as parasitophobia is quite common on social networks causing “parasite hoaxes” to have strong emotional response and thus long reach. Some education and awareness measures to avoid hysteria would be necessary I am afraid :)


This sounds like a great idea. Probably the best way to accomplish this is through a Project. You might want to read through how to construct a Project here:

When I search for Projects that target parasites, there is a long list already:✓&q=parasites I will leave it to you to look through that list and see if any of these Projects already do what you want to do.

I wouldn’t worry about parasitophobia on iNaturalist. Of course, some people will find it hard to look at photos of parasites, but most people who use iNaturalist will find it fascinating. Good luck!


Having worked with parasites, I can think of a couple of things to consider in this worthy project.

  1. We can ameliorate the “yuck” factor by making the lead photo in an observation one that’s informative but not particularly gross, so you could caution your observers to do that.
  2. Parasite data collected at clinics and veterinary schools will have misleading locations, unless you specifically try to record the host animal’s home base. Instructions on how to deal with that will help.

I would also note that parasites would be “wild” observations, even when found in domestic animals. In the case of parasites discovered at a veterinary clinic or similar, the location might be ok as well. If the owner just brought an animal in because they were sick, and the parasites were discovered there as part of a normal screen, I think this is accurate - the parasites were in their host, and the host was there. For instance, a human disease test result is valid evidence if taken at the doctor’s office if the human with the disease was there.

If parasite samples were taken off site or somewhere where the host was not present, then I think that the location would be inaccurate.


I think in regards to the parasite phobias, people do post parasites on iNat already and I imagine if someone really doesn’t want to see them, they’re probably just going to avoid the project anyway, plus the kinds of hoaxes you get on social media involve people spreading misinformation rather than just posting an observation of a species.

There are plenty of projects dedicated to species that people commonly have phobias of so I wouldn’t worry too much about that, but also sometimes those can be a good tool for people who want to get used to seeing those species in a controlled environment.


So there are differing perspectives on the “location” of a parasite observation. This is just the type of discussion that would need to go into the use of any such parasite data, and often it depends on the question being asked. For instance, many of the questions about parasites have to do with their complex life cycles and getting from host to host. In this case, the “home” location of the host animal would be important.

Because iNaturalist is crowdsourced, not everyone will be using the same perspective even when the “rules” are clearly stated. It’s always the responsibility of researchers to vet (in this case, double-entendre) the data before using it to draw conclusions.


Although, in a sense, one could argue that in that case, the pathogen was there “because a human intended for it to be there” – as in they brought their disease in to get it identified.

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Parasites are cerainly some of the most interesting organisms to document. Whether it’s a rust fungus on a plant, a gall forming mite, intestinal worms, a bacterial infection, a cleptoparasitic bee, a fish tounge eating isopod, viruses… certainly a challenge to pack all these into one project?!?

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Absolutely, this was my point. In the case of a pet with a parasite, the human owner didn’t know about the parasite and so didn’t move it intentionally (even if they did move the pet intentionally).

But parasites “intend” to be whereever their host is, so a tapeworm or lungworm or malarial parasite or whatever it is, if inside its host, is where it intends to be, regardless of whether a human moved the host or not.

The exception to me would be if a human intentionally moved the parasite specifically (like they took a stool sample to the vet or something).

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I think there would be usefulness and interest in a project for parasites found in or on humans and domestic animals (I have an obs of a tick on myself to contribute even, lol) but it would be a lot of work to define the allowed taxa since there’s so many kinds of parasites. I guess you could just make it open and manual-add only. Also, you would probably want to require a field to indicate the host, such as the existing “Interaction->Parasite of:”

Would it just be for parasites that are animals or also include any pathogens?

since “mapping” is in your thread title, and you’re talking about observations that potentially come from a veterinary situation, i would just suggest that you think hard about geoprivacy and how you want to encourage folks to collect and record location data. just for example, not everyone wants to broadcast that their animals have a particular parasite.

sometimes folks jump into making observations and realize only later that the accurate locations and accurate dates that are great for science may not be so great for other practical reasons.

some people think that just using iNaturalist’s built-in obscuring feature is enough to protect their locations, but i always warn folks that while obscuring is better than nothing to protect privacy, it’s not as private as i think most people would assume it would be. i don’t know if vets have something equivalent to HIPAA privacy rules, but just be extra careful if it’s important to you to protect the privacy of your animal patients and their caretakers.

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Hi, thanks for reaction. The initial idea is to aim at “macroparasites”, so basically ectoparasites and helmiths, the basic stuf of traditional parasitology. Going into microbiology or virology is way away from what is accessible to broader range of people. Doing coprologic investigation or checking for ticks, fleas etc. is a simple and technically easy even with very basic equipment for any veterinarian and quite possible also to interested lay people.


The privacy is of course important issue. If the material was from a person it is especially complicated. In case of domestic animals could be as difficult, e.g. in case of professional breeders whos economic interests rely on their good reputation. However for the purpose of “mapping” especially in case of parasites exact locality is not that necessary information. Simple knowledge of broader area and the host species interaction is relevant. For example you do´t need to know who´s dog got infested by spreading species of a tick, but it is very usefull to know it is already in the broader area.

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