Who is working on viruses here?

I have been looking through the Kingdom Viruses, and it seems kinda samey. Lots of plant leaves with unidentified mosaic type viruses. Lots of pokeweed mosaic virus in the first few pages, lots of Badnavirus (I did not know that those ornamental “Gold Dust” Aucubas were due to a virus), including one page of almost nothing but Badnavirus. Animal viruses, just a few recurring kinds: ladybirds with Dinocampus coccinellae paralysis virus, pillbugs with isopod iridescent virus, sea turtles with chelonid alphaherpesvirus five, birds with Genus Avipoxvirus, rabbits with myxomatosis, and deer with Deltapapillomavirus. Among human viruses, I have so far found only two: chicken pox, and human papilloma virus (one of which was uploaded by me earlier today).

It sure would be nice to see more viral diversity portrayed here, seeing as viruses are such a diverse group. Given the global nature of iNat, I had expected to see, for instance, examples of tropical diseases observed by travelers involved with humanitarian work (adhering to ethical confidentiality standards, of course).


I was actually going to ask a while ago, are human viruses considered acceptable on inaturalist?

Because I was thinking of uploading a picture of my wart, but I thought that was pushing the boundaries of what the site was about.


I think viruses are fair game wherever we encounter them. I guess there are two concerns, right? First is that we’ll be swamped by photos of human lesions which strike folks as gross and discourage them from engaging the platform. Second is that we don’t have many macroscopic tools / experts for identifying viruses. But in both cases, I’d be willing to see what develops and deal with the challenges as they arise.

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Personally I find it a bit odd iNat allows viruses at all, given that they are neither organisms nor technically alive.


Subjective “grossness” is not limited to viruses, though. You could say the same for roadkill photos, which are allowed (and in some cases encouraged).


@jameskdouch is one iding plant viruses here.
If you need more viruses - observe them or ask someone from interested regions to do that. Viruses almost never got identified so now it’s more of spending time than getting actual data imo.


Would be - Human = Casual.

I like to upload plant-virus observations because a few years ago I got interested in plant pathogens. When I started doing this, there were almost no virus observations at all on iNat, but plant viruses do seem to me like an important part of nature.

In general we don’t actively encourage human observations, so I don’t know how people feel about the idea of including a bunch of human-affecting viruses.


Yes, viruses are not “organisms”, and they are not technically “alive”, but they are genuinely part of nature. They are an important part of nature, and therefore I would argue that they do have a place in a site dedicated to recording nature observations.

Of course we can only observe the effects of viruses, not viruses directly.


Why human? e.g. Papillomaviridae would be an easy observation.


I was also initially surprised to find that people were uploading observations of viruses to iNaturalist, since based on what I learnt at school viruses aren’t alive. On the other hand, I do think that there is a place on iNaturalist for recording plant and animal viral diseases. People (including me) often upload observations on here to find out why an organism looks “weird” - sometimes the answer is a fungal or bacterial infection, sometimes the answer is a natural variation, and sometimes the answer is a virus. In my opinion, anything that helps people become more aware of how to make sense of what they see in the natural world around them is good, so having more people on here that can identify and teach people about viral diseases on here would be a big positive for me. Totally discouraging observations of viruses seems counterproductive to me, though I don’t know how far they should be encouraged either.

As for observations of human viral diseases - it’s an interesting idea but I don’t think that iNaturalist is the best platform for recording distributions of viral diseases in humans. Uploading pictures of people’s disease symptoms (other than those of the iNaturalist user themself) seems like it’d have some serious issues with confidentiality and other ethical problems if it’s not being used for a specific research aim.

Then again, I’m also often concerned about all the photos I see on iNaturalist taken of people where it’s not fully clear they know their image is being uploaded to a publically accessible website (particularly of children who seem to be the observer’s classmates or siblings). I’m not sure that’s technically against iNaturalist’s rules but I do think it’s ethically questionable in terms of privacy issues, and observations of viral human diseases would be even more ethically questionable.

For me, unless there’s a way to guarantee people’s confidentiality (obscured locations, no pictures of people’s faces?), I don’t see widespread observations of human viral diseases being viable or ethical.


@dianastuder Would it be, though? I don’t agree that a virus which is infecting a human should be categorised as human or evidence or a human because of its host, any more than a fungus causing leaf spots on a tree should be categorized as a plant. I think there’s still definitely a value in having a separate category for viruses rather than throwing it in the same category as its host organism.


Well, viruses are non-celled life plus they’re definitely part of nature.

Children understand what they upload, they usually don’t get what iNat is in general and why they need to upload anything on it.

@Oliverc29 true warts and papillomas are cause by Papillomaviridae, but you need to know exactly the person has the virus, as warts can have different etymology and can be a benign tumor or something else.


Not necessarily. After all, it is acceptable to post evidence of an interaction with a human



And we accept pictures of the host as evidence of the virus in iridescent viruses in isopods or (as OP said) tumors on deer.

With the caveat, as @melodi_96 said, that if it isn’t a distinctive symptom, then there needs to be additional corroborating information and not just a picture of the wart.


Shope papilloma virus just had its first 2 observations added to the site!


And they’re going to get uploaded anyway, because so many people genuinely don’t know what they are, and are curious. Fungi? Galls? Bacteria? So having some means to identify them, for those who do know, is valuable from the point of view of connecting people with nature.


I think that’s maybe an excessively binary view of alive/not alive, when really viruses occupy a gray area between the two. They may not be organisms but they are also not rocks. Viruses are obviously a biotic component of the natural world and there is more value in allowing them to be observed here than in disallowing them.


Since iNat is a database and teaching tool devoted to the diversity of life, I’d think that viruses should definitely be included. Granted, a virus is technically not an organism but it is an entity that contains DNA or RNA, it replicates (with some help from a true organism), and it appears to be either an ancestor to or derived from organisms. Viruses are closely intertwined with the evolutionary histories of all life on earth, so they’re definitely part of the biota even if they are kind of a “fringe” case.

Anyway, I think I’ll go out in our garden and photo the curly top virus (Curtovirus) that’s attacking our tomatoes. Well, not the virus but the clinical evidence in the plants.


I was going to reply in a similar vein in that unlike minerals, viruses depend on life for their continued existence. If life on earth disappeared, viruses would disappear, too, but minerals would remain.

It may even be true that viruses are evolutionarily descended from life, since we do not have any self-replicating ones that could have preceded life.

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In this case, the corroborating evidence is that the doctor said it was common wart. When the call from the dermetologist comes in, I will make any needed adjustments.