Saw this recently on Instagram...Habitat Destruction from iNatters?

Recently, on the iNat IG account, a wonderful photograph was posted of Leposternon octostegum.

The comments section was particularly curious. The number of individuals likening it to a penis was disturbing…b/c honestly, if any (human) penises they have observed look like that lizard I am pretty surprised.

But other than that, there was this comment:

phrynosomatidae: Ironic talking about habitat loss, given how much habitat destruction can be directly attributed to you and your users…

May I ask…what is this user referring to? How is iNaturalist attributed to habitat destruction?


Judging by the one reply on that thread agreeing with the user, and the user’s own Instagram account, both people seem to be upset about herpers in the US Southwest rampantly flipping over rocks to find Xantusia night lizards, with it leading to rapid breaking of the rocks and eventually leaving the lizards without homes, with herpers often using iNaturalist to find new locations to look for them. While I get their complaints, this seems more like a herper problem than anything else; the birding community also has a similar problem with owls (although presumably not as damaging), but this doesn’t make eBird bad. They also agreed with a reply that essentially bemoaned the democratization of natural sciences, so I think part of it might just be gatekeeping. The rock destruction does seem like a big problem that the herping community must solve though.

And those other replies aren’t exactly as unusual as you think, basically every pink, wrinkled animal who gets posted on social media will get that comparison some time or the other.


Flipping rocks indiscriminately is an issue with some herpers. I know some herpers are split on the impacts of iNat (and other sites that post location data) as they know there are folks out there who will degrade sites or poach animals. Sometimes they will argue that locality info should be restricted to prevent this. There’s good reason to be upset here about these people’s behavior, but I also don’t think trying to restrict all info is a workable answer either.


While the rock destruction is definitely bad, X. henshawii isn’t even that rare of a species, so bemoaning iNaturalist for these few localized disturbances despite its massive benefits to herpetology in other places that have a much higher diversity of genuinely endangered reptiles/amphibians is a rather Amerocentric take in my opinion.


I see a lot more rock habitat destruction from people who like to stack towers and make patterns with them.


Wow - okay. I saw the original comment a couple days ago and hadn’t realized there had been an extensive number of replies to it. When I originally read it it seemed like a blanket statement - and I suppose it was - but in context (if the user had taken time to put the comment in context) he might have better debated his opinion. Instead it simply appeared like an ‘attack’ on the entire iNaturalist organization.

As for the other replies…as someone who taught 9th & 10th graders in the 1990s, I think many of them were far more mature. :blush:


Yeah, there is a Xantusia species here in southern California that lives in decomposing granite slabs. Apparently some people will break the slabs to get the lizards in the daytime, which is unbelievably stupid because (a) unlike flipping a log or rock where it can be done sustainably, this permanently destroys the habitat and (b) that species of night lizard isn’t even remotely difficult to find if you go out at night, WITHOUT breaking or flipping anything. They can easily be found just sitting out on rocks.

I typically don’t like to obscure unless absolutely necessary, because I feel that this website is a fundamentally more interesting place if stuff is obscured only by necessity. I also feel that habitat destruction by things like development is going to vastly outweigh the impacts of individuals except in high traffic spots.

In the case of that Xantusia species I’m now strongly considering obscuring all of my observations of it just because those rock breakers exist, but I generally don’t find that most reptile observations are reproduceable - that is, knowing the location doesn’t even close to guarantee that I can go out and find one, except in the case of flipped reptiles or similar exceptions which I would obscure. These night lizards can be found if you have the location and go at the right time of year, but that’s partially because they’re so common in range.


Maybe I’ve misunderstood, but doesn’t iNat automatically obscure sensitive location data when a species is deemed rare/endangered/threatened? I think some of my plant observations are obscured for this reason.


Not in all cases, unfortunately. I’ve requested a few species be obscured.


18 posts were split to a new topic: Rock stacking - is it OK?

There was a thread about iNatting effect on ecosystems, you can seach it up. I believe capturing what we’re left with is our first goal, seeing large territories dying under high buildings forces us to go out. People who destroy rocks clearly don’t get what they’re doing and why, they existed before iNat and probably will never die out (not literally).

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I’ve recently had the issue of someone I showed a few salamanders not replacing cover well at one of the best salamander locations in Illinois. I’m trying to teach them how to be responsible, but it doesn’t thrill me for untrained people to have unrestricted access to some population of rarer species.

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I tend to agree, I prefer to only obscure rarer species. Most of my herping spots are known by a wide variety of people at this point.

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Isn’t it okay to flip rocks and logs to find animals if you put it back the way it was once you’re done looking tho? I’ve flipped the same rock on different occasions and put it down in the same place after and the animals kept hanging out there regardless.


I do that all the time, and yes as long as they get a rest in between its ok


I’m fully of the opinion that it does. I’ve seen broken apart rocks, logs, and boards at spots that were pinned publicly typically for snakes just a few days or weeks earlier. Furthermore I’ve heard directly from many people who have gone to spots due to iNaturalist pins, it’s well known in the “herping” community to look for spots on iNaturalist. Obviously a hiker posting a gopher snake they spotted crossing a trail is harmless, but a kid who’s just got into the hobby posting a public pin of a similar gopher snake under a rock on a sensitive hillside is going to attract negative attention quickly. Again, I think an overall obscuration policy on a lot more species that are not necessarily legally defined as threatened would be very beneficial. At least Thamnophis sirtalis infernalis (Specifically in Sonoma, Marin, and other bay area counties), Lampropeltis gentilis, and especially Lampropeltis multifasciata most definitely should all be automatically obscured as despite their lack of legal statuses are highly sought after and live in sensitive habitats


“I believe capturing what we’re left with is our first goal, seeing large territories dying under high buildings forces us to go out. People who destroy rocks clearly don’t get what they’re doing and why, they existed before iNat and probably will never die out (not literally).”
Yes. “Having to get that observation to post on iNat” is, for some people, the thing that justifies WHATEVER they may have to do to get it.

The existence and popularity of iNat makes it a game of sorts to get those observations for some people. Yes, it has benefits in recording species and, one hopes, instilling appreciation for wild areas and species for some, but its popularity also invites participation by many who would be oblivious to the intended purpose.


I totally agree with everything the user gheaton said in this thread. Here in Arizona that issue is also happening with people using this platform to find spots to herp and destroying sensitive habitat. Whether its intentional or unintentional, sensitive areas that contain cap rock habitat are being destroyed or are becoming partially uninhabitable for certain animals here in Arizona as well and I think direct inaturalist pins are a HUGE contribution to this issue. For example there is a xantusia spot that became a pretty popular area to go and look for them because it was close to the road and multiple people were putting direct pins right on the spot. Eventually the rocks that were flipped over and over again crumbled and broke or were not put back correctly making that area basically uninhabitable for the lizards since there were barely any intact cap rocks left. This is also a huge issue for other animals that are sought out often like California mountain king snakes. In my opinion obscured pins don’t help that much because they are often quite close to the area where the animal was found. I think that obscured pins should be made to be much farther than the original area where the animal was. Also I believe that other animals such as the Coast mountain kingsnake that have the same type of sensitive habitat (cap rocks) should also be obscured because they can be also hurt by habitat destruction. Some other species that are not exactly endangered but are suffering from habitat loss should be obscured as well, such as the Blainville’s horned lizard. Obscuring those species would keep them safer from poachers and constant harassment. There are only a few places in some counties that have these lizards in large numbers and the ton of pins on each one of these spots i’m sure draws in a crowd that may disturb them more often that if just a few people went there sometimes. These are just some examples of why I think inaturalist should review their policies and change some of the aspects of this app.


You are right that people destroy habitat in that way, however it does not mean that inaturalist direct pins do not contribute to people accessing sensitive areas and destroying habitats as well

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I noticed that in this thread a lot of people were saying something along the lines of “Habitat destruction existed before Inat.” Yes it did however this doesn’t mean that Inaturalist is not making it much much easier for people to quickly find areas with sensitive habitat. When the pins are concentrated into one area that just makes it even more popular and eventually the spot will become uninhabitable in some cases, not saying this is always the case. If inaturalist had obscured pins for these species with sensitive habitat, then all the pins wouldn’t be concentrated into one area. Yes habitat destruction would still probably occur in the area however a lot of people would visit a lot of different spots instead of it all being concentrated into one small area.