Users contacting me to collect and ship them my finds

A user has contacting me seeking for me to capture and ship them entomological finds for a fee. I do not want to do this but it made me wonder if this is a use that iNaturalist has considered? Is it ethical?

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If there’s a fee involved I would call that “commercial use” that is explicitly forbidden by our Terms of Service, so I would contact help@inat or flag the message in question and explain the situation.

If there’s not a fee involved, I would still be suspicious, especially if the organisms seem rare. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to want specimens, but most of the legitimate means of acquiring them require permits from local land and resource managers. So: maybe ethical, maybe not, depending on your ethics and the context.

Would you be willing to share what species this person was interested in buying? This touches on a larger issue of how we at iNat can know what species are threatened by disclosing the locations of their populations. We currently rely on external authorities that provide designations of “threat” or “rarity,” but these often don’t specifically address the question of what species are valuable enough to collect / harvest.

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i did this once for a researcher who contacted me, the bugs werent rare or anything just out of the way for the researcher and they were still working on funding. but whether its ethical or not truly depends on the details. so yeah id be curious about what they solicited you about, and if they said why

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I’m a PCV (Plant Conservation Volunteer) for my region, surveying and documenting rare and endangered species. We have strict rules about keeping locations confidential. I do not post any of these subjects on iNat.

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I’ve had people ask me for specimens or samples before, none of them seemed ‘sketchy’ to me but thus far I have always said no to shipping anything beyond our small state because i don’t want to risk spreading any invasive species (including pathogens attached to specimens)…

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Не вижу проблемы с публикацией результатов наблюдений за редкими и охраняемыми видами. Главное не забывать выставлять в настройках конфиденциальности - скрытое.
Касательно просьб выслать образцы… Для начала попросите просящего представиться по всей форме. Не только имя, фамилия, но и должность с указанием организации. Ну а дальше проверяем через Гугл, действительно ли человек тот, кем себя назвал. и только если он является действующим учёным, работающим в данной области - тогда можно подумать о высылке образцов.

Google translate:
I do not see a problem with the publication of observations of rare and protected species. The main thing is not to forget to set in the privacy settings - hidden.
Regarding requests to send samples … To begin, ask the person asking to introduce themselves in full form. Not only the name, surname, but also the position indicating the organization. Well, then we check through Google whether the person really is who he called himself. and only if he is an active scientist working in this field - then you can think about sending samples.

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Yea, I would be curious about which groups were being requested and why. I would say no to anyone wanting them for art projects, but I would consider taxonomic research projects. If they were asking for colorful butterflies or shiny beetles, I would see that as a red flag since those are prized by people who make insect art. Meanwhile, many insects are not the target of collectors due to small size or fading colors.

Personally, I only consider sending specimens if they are going to be used for a research project and if I have already collected them. And even then, I have some specimens that are required to be turned in to a museum per my permits, so I would just defer them to that museum.

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I consider it OK for people to ask, and OK for you to say “no” if you want. After all, you have a busy life too, and you don’t have time for these things.

I agree that the details help determine whether I’d say yes or no. Rare species? I’d look for who the person is associated with, ask around, and try to find out if this is a study I’d support. Common species in my area? I’d probably cooperate. Or intend to cooperate. Remembering to collect at the right time is another issue.

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don’t actually do this, but i wonder if it would be ethical to collect a fee from a sketchy requester without sending back a specimen? (if someone offers payment only upon receipt, that would sound even more potentially sketchy than this already does.) :female_detective:

I don’t see any non-ethical in request alone, even with fee. I was asked if I collected the fly I observed as the person was (and still is) researching the genus and not all species are listed for our area, unfortunately I don’t catch anything without someone asking me. Also had the same talk but about plant samples for genetic study, though I collected them I had no time to send them and still feel sorry about it. Those who are serious send all the needed info about them and what they do right away, not hop up with “send me those!”.

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If it is a scientist in your field, wouldn’t you already recognise the name.

Between poachers and phytosanitary laws, if your gut says no = NO.

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I would be cautious, but there are certainly legitimate reasons someone might ask this. If the fee is just to cover shipping and materials, that is one thing, but if it is essentially for profit, that strikes me as a big red flag.

If you are considering doing this, you should also definitely check out whether any relevant state, local, national permits are required, etc. A lot of times, collecting or shipping specimens is pretty regulated (for some reasons already mentioned such as spreading disease or invasive species), so I wouldn’t do this lightly or for some person who you don’t know well.

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Who is paying the fee? The requester or you? Find out who the requester is, get their institution affiliation, look them up, and find out if they are a researcher. Get their institution email address and communicate to them through that to ensure they’re not pretending to be someone that they’re not. If it’s a threatened or endangered species, then there are serious problems. What is the fee for?

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I reckon definitely be cautious… solicit from them as much information about what they are doing, who they are doing it for, permits, and so on. Assume good intentions, but safe-guard against abuse.

Even if it eventuates that the purpose might be deemed questionable, there exists an opportunity to educate and learn, it just remains to be seen who will be doing the most learning! Seize that opportunity if you can!

I have been approached to collect, both by researchers and students who I have had considerable contact in iNat prior, and also from a researcher who put out a broadcast request for specimens of an introduced stink bug of economic significance. In that latter, it would have been easy to supply just on my own desire to see that pest dealt with, but I still went through the caution of contacting the research organisation she was affiliated with to verify that she worked there, and as the shipping address matched the institution I chose to provide material. I would not have done so if it were a native or endemic species, or if I would have required a permit to collect myself…

Crossing international borders would be a whole different situation… I would even go so far as to say I would be approaching authorities with regards to concerns of biosecurity.

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Thanks Everybody. I am happy to see a variety of perspectives offered here. I’m not used to dealing with these situations and tend to always have a very negative view of the practice of trading something wild and unusual to someone far away. I didn’t even consider legitimate research reasons. I will act with caution and learn more but personally do not choose to collect living specimens that I observe in wild situations.

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As if an institutional affiliation would prevent people from causing damage :D. I experienced at least two occasions, where researchers with respected institutional affiliations were digging up extremely rare plants, after i showed them the place. With that experience in mind, i think it is much better to send samples, than to publish locations that are easy to access.

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Really surprising. I’d expect them trying to grow from seed or microprop. :flushed:

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When I’m doing taxonomic research, often I need wild-collected plants. (My colleagues and I usually go collect them ourselves.) Plants grown in gardens and greenhouses can turn out odd. On the other hand, I may grow plants in a common garden, to determine which of their differences are genetically wired in and which are due to the environment (to simplify), and then I’ll need wild-collected seeds. And sometimes the locations are just too far to go. So I can see a request like this being legitimate.

I can also see it being purely commercial, with some species.

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As a museum worker, my perspective is that your specimen may be housed someplace forever, with the data, including genetics available to researchers, into perpetuity. If the researcher was willing to pay your shipping costs, that’s just being considerate. I do work on a group that I couldn’t possibly spend the money or time to collect myself. The samples I obtain are shared with other researchers and my institution takes responsibility for the care and databasing of those samples for future generations. Instead of that researchers spending, perhaps thousands of dollars to travel (and the carbon footprint), having someone being willing to collect it and ship it (dead of course - and I’m thinking insects here - so no introduced species) can really help contribute to science in a more gentle, economical way. Just my two cents.

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@johnnysap If you don’t want to collect, for any reason, that is your choice.

Although I don’t collect or dissect for myself, I have collected samples of specific insect species at the request of researchers. Most have offered to reimburse mailing costs but not a “fee” for the specimen itself. I personally don’t find it unethical to contribute to scientific knowledge.

I agree with @cbills that collecting specimens for research now and in the future is valuable for all the reasons she mentions.

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