Question about the best way to mark DQA on an observation

I took a photo of a bit of fur at a location. I find lots of bits of fur, often rabbit, and I don’t think much of it when I take photos.

I turned out this bit of fur was North American Porcupine and the location in which I found it is out of range for the animal. Not by huge amounts but by significant enough to doubt a live porcupine was ever there.

I suspect the fur was actually a bit of pelt that was being carried, then dropped, by someone and perhaps intended to be use for Native American quillwork (which is common in the area).

So, I think I need to mark the DQA in such a way that it doesn’t show a Porcupine being present in that area.

Which option seems most appropriate:
NO on ‘Organism is wild’ - because the presumption is that it was a pelt under the possession of a human or…
NO on ‘Location is accurate’ because the point in which it was found is not the location in which that animal would have lived

or a ‘NO’ vote on some other item in the check list?

Or… should I just delete the observation?

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I would say it’s not wild, i.e. a person brought it there. I mark observations as having an inaccurate location when the map pin is incorrect, i.e. someone takes a picture in a forest but they uploaded it at their house and that’s what the location is. But you can do whatever you would like.


I’d just put all that in the description, and let community evaluate, since you don’t know how it got there (by human means is your assumption…not without merit, but unproven).

The location is accurate to where you found it.
I guess you could downvote wild, the way we would for feathers in a craft store.


I wouldn’t delete it. It sounds like marking it as not wild would be justified. I’d also add the “animal sign and song” observation field with the value “fur/feathers”.


If you 100% believe it was brought by humans, there’s little value of that observation as it’s only fur and animal itself wasn’t there, it’s up to you if you want to make it casual or delete, as every user will have own opinion on this.


Agreed. Observations of nonwild can help with further identification of wild. Especially if close scrutiny of the subject occurs and is represented in images.


Is it close enough that the animal could have wandered there especially as Anthropogenic Climate Change has moved climate zones pole-ward?


If you’re pretty sure it was brought there by a human, “not wild” would be the correct option. But it’s worth considering that organisms sometimes show up in strange places they’re not “supposed” to be, as well. So just because it’s out of range doesn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t one there.

Edit to add: I don’t think you should delete it! It could be a significant observation if it turns out there was a porcupine in an area they aren’t known to be in. And if not, more photos of things are always useful for helping others identify stuff in the future, and for training the CV.


Wasn’t there an iNat blog post a few years ago profiling a user, and one of the things he specifically mentioned was his observations of porcupines had been used to expand their known range?

[Edit: found it, it was Greg Lasley (RIP): at 4:18 in the linked video]


…and there are other Anthropogenic forces that can be at play causing organisms to be out of range. Unintentional transport of viable, live organism occur often enough that it should be considered. A population, production of progeny, may not be able to establish but an organism may be able to live out its own life.


Welcome to the forum!
I also keep that in mind when I look at ranges of moths. A species normally found in the US could easily have moved up into S. Canada. I have also been involved in identifying and discussing huge range extensions (i.e. 1,000 km) that turned out to be correct. So it may be sampling ‘error’ - they have been there all along, but not seen.
I don’t know where this fur/quill sample was seen, or how well the area has been sampled, but it could be a range extension or a vagrant.

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Yeah, this is how the “Location is accurate” DQA should be used.

Note, you can always click on the “i” icon to get a brief description of the DQA fields.


Thanks to everyone who is helping work out how to handle observations like this. I’ve not only gained a better understanding of how to handle this one but how to handle other observations that aren’t as cut and dried as most.

Range and location: In my state, Minnesota (MN), the iNat observations for North American Porcupine are concentrated in the NE. This observation was in the SW quadrant of the state and about 125 miles from the nearest iNat observation in MN and about 125 miles to the nearest observation in Wisconsin (the state to the east of MN).

The state Department of Natural Resources says they are found in the upper (NE) two-thirds of MN. Their range map doesn’t cover the SW corner of the state but I can’t tell how far away from the boundary my observation is. Range maps on other sites are similar. The website for the National Wildlife Control Training says “In Minnesota porcupines can be found throughout the state excluding the southwestern region of the state.”

I know that things can be found outside their range but I’m always respectful of the concept of ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof’. I tried various online searches for any hint that porcupines have been found in this area (which is not a highly visited area by naturalists). All I could find was A) references to Native American quillwork done in the county and B) a soil survey of the county with a list of wildlife ‘attracted to’ the existing habitat that included porcupines. But the wording (to me) didn’t directly specify that they were found there so I didn’t take it as a confirmation of such.

A novice thought. Most of SW Minnesota is farmland, prairie, and grassland. But this area we were in is along the banks of the Minnesota River where I believe the habitat could (would) be very different from the surrounding landscape. So, if an isolated population of an organism were to exist in the SW portion, it would make sense it would be in the habitat quite unlike what surrounds it. It was a geologically interesting area to visit. But I don’t know enough about the required habitat of the porcupine and the full habitat of the Minnesota River Valley to form an opinion beyond idle contemplation.

Predated remains vs human-held pelt: I do not know if this is a pelt or predated piece of skin with the fur/quills attached. I interact very minimally with the things I’m observing and photographing and I wouldn’t normally handle dead mammal remains and I was at the very end of this walk with my husband waiting in the car! I think, by looking at the photo, that it could be a pelt. I don’t know that to be the case. I liked how @Star3 put it “by human means is your assumption…not without merit, but unproven”. Exactly. I don’t 100% know nor am I ‘pretty sure’. I just don’t have anything to disprove what could be the likeliest explanation.

So I was left with this way out of range observation and very little to explain it. With one possibility of it being a pelt, and no evidence found that porcupines have been found any closer than 125 to here, I wondered if it was the best practice to keep it as a RG observation.

@jon_sullivan : thanks for the tip on the observation field. I rarely utilize this field because I don’t think it’s highly intuitive. I’ve added that field.

@Star3 : thanks for the link to the Greg Lasley video. That was a fantastic interview and, wow, talking about out-of-range animals was specific to this topic.

Final thoughts:
I agree that there could be some merit to the observation and it should be kept.
I have already shared most of what I had researched/considered in the observation itself and I’ll add a link to this thread so people can read a little further on the concept of out-of-range observations. With that info in the observation, perhaps it doesn’t do (much?/any?) harm to RG as long as people investigate these vagrant types of observations. This was my biggest worry.
I don’t think I’ll mark it ‘not wild’ for the reason that I really can’t be highly confident in either wild or not wild. Of course, someone might happen by and mark it such and, as suggested by quite a few, we let the community work that out. I’m on board with that concept.
And I’ll keep the location as accurate as explained in the explanation of that DQA.

For the moment, I have what I sought and I thank you all for your help. I’ll mark this solved for my own needs (on this post which is a result of everyone’s contributions - each post offers guides for a solution and I couldn’t pick just one). But, if allowed, I’m fine with additional thoughts being put forth.

Thanks all.


That was helpful, thanks. I’m in Winnipeg, north of you, so I know the landscape and agree it would be unlikely to see one in SW Minnesota. If there are Indigenous Peoples there, I would add a note as well as all the other things you are doing. But since you do not know, leave the observation up. I don’t think there would be much overall harm if it were to go to Research grade, but if you want to make sure you could add a rough ID, a placeholder name, and a note. If it does correctly get identified in the future, just refute it again. Or change it to ‘Observation as good as it gets’.
One other avenue might be to contact the Indigenous folks in the area and ask them if anyone has been making quill art, and if it is possible the observation could be a lost or discarded item.

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I know for a fact that there are Native Americans in that county making quill art. I found info on them in the Google research I did. And I did make that note in the observation. Thanks for the suggestions.


Occam’s Razor: given several possible explanations, any of which adequately explain the data, we go with the one that requires the fewest assumptions.


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