Poll: is handling herps for iNat ethical?

I just had this thought, how does everyone feel about handling herps for photos for iNat? Sure it might cause some stress to the animal (I have nothing to prove this, just assuming), but the photo will contribute to citizen science and perhaps if there are others with you who aren’t really into nature, that could spark an interest (plus, I personally just find picking up snakes and other herps fun).

I guess the main question is, in your opinion, do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks or vice versa?
If you choose the 4th option please describe when it’s ok and when it’s not.

  • Yes, I think it’s fine, I do it myself
  • Yes, it’s fine, though I wouldn’t do it
  • No, seems unethical to me
  • Depends on the case (comment)

0 voters

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Not sure if this is a topic that came to your head after my recent post, but I think proper context should be given when handling wildlife, specially for photos.

If you just want a photo of the animal, you don’t really need to handle it. If it’s to properly identify the species, or collect data for research, that should be explained in the photo description. My main issue with this is the high demand of large snakes in the wildlife selfie industry. People pay to handle an anaconda that lives in captivity, usually in a small enclosure, so why shouldn’t they be allowed to do it if other people pay (more money) to capture and pose with wild ones? It’s the cheaper option for those with less resources. In my opinion, wildllife handling without proper motive/context promotes trafficking.

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Yeah, I did skim your post but missed the part about handling herps, maybe I subconsciously saw it or something haha. Yes, I see your point, although, personally, I feel like, if done safely and in the right context, handling wild herps for education and for science can certainly have many benefits.

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Just out of curiosity, did you get the idea for this feed from my own this morning in which I made the comment:

Personally, I do not see the harm in catching snakes or lizards. I mean, my dad has been a herp for almost 50+ years now and I’m sure if he had a problem with it, or have seen problems regarding it, he would know. I believe the biggest issue regarding holding herps is legality. As mentioned in the quote above, Oregon has many laws that won’t even allow me to hold herps and if I’m caught, I can get quite a hefty fine. I think the reason those laws are in place is not because it’s bad to hold them is because I know a lot of people who would much rather catch and keep a bullsnake in their backyard instead of spending $200 on python or boa in the pet store.

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I’m a herper and a former herp outreach educator, but not a herpetologist, for what it’s worth.

When I was younger (30 and under - ah, those were the days) I was all about catching and handling herps, as I imagine most younger herpers are. Catching lizards and the like are a major way for kids especially to get into wildlife. I think there is value, especially for kids, in using bug nets and catching lizards. I think back and cringe on some of my actions as a young boy, but I think overall it shaped me into an animal lover and was a net good. And using “animal ambassadors”(all former pets or unreleasable animals) in my old job, I think I’ve literally helped hundreds of people at least partly overcome their fear of reptiles, amphibians, spiders and roaches,which I think is important.

However, as I’ve gotten older I do a lot less handling of wild herps, especially amphibians (I think it’s important to separate reptiles and amphibians, the latter of which I believe are far more vulnerable to handling), and really only pick them up if I need to keep them in the area for a shot or to move them off of a road. I don’t really “pose” them for shots either. But I agree with @whimbrelbirder that catching them is a lot of fun, especially snakes since you have so little time to ensure it’s not a venomous snake and then try to catch it.

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I think handling for an iNat photo is unnecessary. Most of the time, if you can pick it up to take a photo, you can probably take a decent photo of the animal without any additional stress or risks to it. A photo on the computer is most likely not going to suddenly change someone’s mind about their love of snakes or salamanders. Also, if you are handling lots of herps and stepping from wet areas to other wet areas, I would also worry about spreading diseases.

If you are properly & carefully handling a herp to show someone in person, I think it is more reasonable for all the educational benefits. And, of course, if you need to move them out of the road.

I also agree with @tiwane about amphibians being more sensitive than reptiles. Amphibians can be easily damaged by dry hands or any chemical residues on hands, more so than reptiles that have a tougher skin.

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for iNat I would, first do no harm.
We waited, quietly and patiently, at a respectful distance.
Then circled off the path to leave the lizard to die, and the snake to finish lunch.

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/21026757
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/20996653

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I personally find it unethical to handle potentially vulnerable species for the sake of submitting an iNaturalist observation, unless there is some obvious benefit for the species from improving available information. That said, I don’t think we should take the “hands off” approach at all. I have great memories of catching amphibians (mostly green frogs) when I was very young, and find that I still haven’t quite grown out of doing this (I don’t think I ever will). Though I’ve certainly stressed a number of these animals by doing this, I think what I’ve done to conserve their habitat outweighs that by far. I spend a few hours every year “tending” a vernal pool near my home, adding branches for wood frogs and spotted salamanders to lay their eggs on - the result is that I have more wood frogs in the pond than I’ve ever seen before. In addition to that, I am managing the surrounding forest to accelerate its recovery to something comparable with an old-growth forest. A big part of that involves increasing the amount of dead wood on the forest floor; just the other day, I was turning over logs I left in a young stand of sugar maples I thinned about a year ago and found red-backed salamanders under many of them. Before I did the thinning, there was no coarse woody debris for cover and I had never found a red-backed salamander in the stand. My point is that if I hadn’t handled these species, I doubt that I would have felt strongly enough about them to care for them and their habitat like I have. To sum this up, no, I don’t think handling wild amphibians or reptiles is unethical, but I think it becomes unethical when it is done not to strengthen one’s connection with the species but to add to one’s “life list”.

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ditto to a lot of the comment already made. I would “handle” the first one, and then try to do hands-off observations thereafter.

I try to put myself in their position… If I was picked up by an alien and handled roughly so they could get a selfie to show their alien buddies, I’d be pretty annoyed about it. But if the alien wanted to cut me open to determine my species for the purposes of blocking an interstellar highway being built through our solar system, I would take one for the team! Of course, I’d rather it be some other volunteer!

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I wouldn’t say handling wild animals is necessarily bad or unethical so much as it is unnecessary.

Generally speaking, handling most reptiles isn’t dangerous (at least, not for them!) but as @tiwane and @emjtca said, handling wild amphibians is usually not a good idea. Ask anyone who works in amphibian conservation and they’ll tell you just dangerous it can be! Amphibians have incredibly sensitive skin, and things that are harmless to us can be a matter of life and death for them.

Going back to reptiles, though, just because it’s not necessarily harmful to interact with a wild animal doesn’t always mean you should. If the animal needs to be handled to collect important data, or needs to be relocated for safety reasons, then I’m willing to give it a pass, but most of the time handling is unnecessary. Documenting an animal in it’s natural habitat is easier, less stressful for the animal, and can provide useful information on the habitat in question.

There’s an argument to be made that, especially with young children or people with phobias, it can be beneficial to allow handling, and I agree with that. In a controlled context, introducing people to often misunderstood animals can do a lot to reshape their opinions! But I also believe that we need to teach others, especially children, that observing for afar can be just as fun as getting up close and personal is. A lot of kids who love nature have a hard time seeing the danger it can pose, and how direct handling can negatively impact an animal. I was certainly guilty of this as a child, and though it never got me into any real trouble, it very easily could have. I’m still guilty of it, in some ways!

There’s something about being close to animals that most people find deeply appealing, and I can’t fault anyone for that. But if you’re going to risk handling an animal (and there is always some level of risk), you should do it for a good reason, and not just because it’s personally gratifying. If our love for nature somehow obstructs our ability to treat it with respect, then something’s gone awry.

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At Cape Town Aquarium we have trained volunteers and a ‘rock pool’ where kids are encouraged to handle and learn about those particular few specimens. In context, for good reason, handling is OK.

But I won’t. (Except to rescue tortoises from the road - and I have since learnt … not to lift them above my knee height, as the stress of handling makes them lose precious water, which cannot easily be replaced in a drought. But but, I meant well)

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I have before, but won’t in the future because I know better now. Thankfully what I really focus on is plants, which generally do not care if you move their branches a little to get a good photo.

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I can agree with that. Last summer I got the opportunity to back to the awesome deserts of Utah and Colorado. And this time around I decided not to catch every lizard I see. This is also my first year photographing anything besides birds (thanks iNat). So I wanted to get photos instead of catching the lizard, such as this.

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27722461

However, we encountered a very energetic Leopard Lizard (lifer for me) in Utah, some 20+ miles outside of expected range, so we captured it and held it briefly to fully document that a male Leopard was spotted at this location. Unfortunately, no other individuals were found but still an awesome sight.

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27696244

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A lot of herps (perhaps even most?) are species-at-risk and listed accordingly in endangered species legislation. That legislation can often include prohibitions on “harassing” (capture, handling, etc…) them without a permit to do so for research purposes. So, imo, ethics is secondary to illegality. Removing them from harm (e.g., off the road) is one thing, but if you’re just trying to get better pictures, maybe you should be using a better camera (i.e., something with decent optical zoom) than the chintzy thing in your cellphone. Additionally, with physical handling, there’s concerns around spreading disease among them and also parasites to you. So, imo, ethics is also secondary to the health and safety of all parties.

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I do it all the time but you have to be careful. I wouldn’t do it if there was a risk of the animal getting hurt. I used to rescue the Texas horned lizard from the roads when we were in Dilly, Tx, because of the traffic, but didn’t bother them any other time. (We had a lot of carpenters going through that road.)

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Top priority is safety for self and safety for the animal. Handling reptiles just to handle them is probably unnecessary, and struggling or aggressive animals should be left alone, but I wouldn’t worry overly much about stressing healthy animals out. Using proper handling technique (and protective equipment) will perturb animals minimally, and provides an opportunity to make better observations than just observing from a distance.

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The topic, in my opinion, is not about just handling reptiles or amphibians, but handling them for iNat. This means handling them to take photos and share them. Sharing photos of wildlife handling without proper context (rescuing, research, etc.) gives the idea that it’s ok to do it. This encourages wildlife selfie tourism.

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I often catch and handle green anoles and Mediterranean house geckos when they come inside my mother’s house or mine.

I’ll photograph them for iNaturalist before releasing them outside.

I plan to continue to do so for their safety (my mom has a cat and a dog, we both have vaccuums and other hazards), but now I’m wondering how I can do it better to further minimize stress. There’s a lot of comments about safe handling that seem to assume all the people reading this thread already know what that entails.
Can anyone recommend some guides, or offer some advice?

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My initiation into nature study and a career as a biologist was by catching herps as a kid. Still enjoy it occasionally today. I wouldn’t deny that to some youngster who might be developing an interest in biology. Yes, there are concerns today about transmission of chytrid fungus in amphibians and snake fungal disease in many snakes. Also more attention to how capture and handling might stress these animals. But given all the other stressors and impacts that herpetofauna have to contend with today, I strongly doubt that a small number of naturalists who might take a minute to pose a snake or frog for a photo before letting it continue on is a major issue.

I use a tub, like a sandwich meat tub, cup, or clear ice cream tubs and place it over the animal and slide a paper under it. I do this with all of the little critters that come in our house and I can easily take close up pictures, plus it makes it easy to release them. This is especially helpful with animals that might bite such as spiders, scorpions, etc.

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