Why are people so afraid to poke things with a stick these days?

This is more of a catch-all discussion about our interactions with nature these days but I’ve seen a few Obs of dead creatures recently where ID would have been made easier if the observer was willing to move the corpse about to show more features. People clearly have enough interest to want to know what it is but seem to be afraid to interact with something strange. I know things like bird flu are a concern but I also see many observations where the photographer doesn’t seem to want to manipulate plants to make features easier to photograph.
On the other end of the scale you do see people on the internet handling all sorts of things that should only be approached with a long stick for safety’s sake.
I worry about the lack of nature skills made available to many people now, and how few grew up knowing the enjoyment of poking weird things with sticks.


The one time I went to an inaturalist meetup all those local inat people seemed completely crazy, touching everything with their bare fingers (and then we went to a restaurant afterwards…) I forget all the dead things they found but the worst for me was an owl pellet they sifted through to id the animals it had eaten… :nauseated_face:

Myself on the other hand I stay clear of anything dead as well as any kind of feces and I’m even disgusted enough by certain insects or certain fungi that I’ll only observe them with a picture from far away :sweat_smile:


I have no evidence if people are more reluctant to interact with weird or dead things now than in the past (but I would guess they probably are). I think it is likely a result of people just having less experience with weird/dead things in general - the first time you encounter something weird/dead it’s weird and unknown. By the fourth time, not weird anymore (though hopefully still dead…)

I definitely see observations like this and think “Just flip it over, I could ID for you!”. So I just leave a comment saying “If you flip it over with a stick, then…” Hopefully the next time people encounter a similar situation it will be a little less scary and they’ll feel comfortable enough to find a stick to flip it over.

This actually really fits with iNat’s goal to increase interaction with nature. For many people, using their phone’s camera is a familiar, easy, comfortable activity. With iNat, that comfort can be leveraged to have them take notice of something they haven’t before or maybe uncomfortable like getting close enough to take a photo of something they find a little scary/weird/gross like a slimy fungus, spider, slug, whatever. When nothing goes wrong with the picture (and maybe they get a little dopamine hit from finding out what it is via IDs on their observation), they may be more encouraged to dig a little deeper next time.

Many people wouldn’t even take a pic of something dead - those that do and are willing to post are showing that their interest overcomes their ingrained revulsion. They are prime candidates for conversion to full on iNaturalist fiends.


Not just dead things, sometimes I wish people would get closer pictures of snakes, spiders, lizards etc. I realize that goes against most public advice but 99% of the time there’s no harm in getting closer than 10 metres, and it goes a long way in getting a better ID… Unfortunately It’s harder to convince people to be less afraid of things.


Not just poking dead things with a stick, there seems to be an aversion to hold or even touch a harmless animal among some younger naturalists. I get the fact that disease transmission is a growing concern for many species (e.g., chytrid fungus in amphibians), but in most cases handling of many organisms such as harmless snakes, frogs, toads, etc. is of little to no risk to person or animal. I’ve seen lots of photos of wild-caught turtles where, if they just turned the animal over to photo the plastron in addition to the carapace, an ID would be easy.

Alternatively, there are also the photos of a lizard or frog that is being held in a death grip and you can barely see the animal.


In various places of the world, it is a legal requirement not to touch such animals - harmless or not, dead or not - without training and permit. Photos of snakes, toads, newts, bats etc. improperly handled by laymen “for the sake of a good pic to show/to prove I’m not afraid of these ugly critters” set a bad example.


There is an ever increasing pile of fungi that will never be IDed because no gill/pore picture was taken


I suppose that’s where we are at nowadays. I can’t imagine being a young person with a budding interest in herpetology – as I once was – and being discouraged from even touching an animal I encounter in the wild.


I’m actually guilty of that (even as a former member of the Young Herpetological Society) I stopped my kids handling a toad (Bufo bufo) recently because they’d just had sunscreen put on and I was worried about it harming the animal. They do have to learn that the animal’s welfare always comes first though.


I used to collect roadkills on a regular basis for donation to a research museum. Most were reptiles but occasionally I’d find a bird or mammal that was worth collecting (this was back when a photo of the carcass was not really an option). Once I collected a roadkilled skunk, put it in a garbage bag, and hung it on the back of my VW Beetle so I could drive it 60 miles to a research museum to get it in a freezer. It stunk all the way there. Those were the days. Naturalist kids today are missing out.


I helped process a humpback whale and disarticulate the skeleton, which was loaded (wet) into a trailer and driven down the highway to a museum for processing. I wonder who had to drive behind that trailer…


I helped a few times with recovering dead manatees in Florida years ago. We’d put the carcasses (which were never very fresh) on a trailer and haul them to a lab for necropsy and processing, like your whale. Once we stopped on our way back from a recovery site at a drive-through burger place to get a meal, with a trailer full of rotted manatee. I felt a little bad for the people in the cars in line behind us.


Yk, I feel overly judged when people see me moving the carcass of an animal off the road or when they see me literally poking something with a stick. I’m already a social outcast, so when someone’s sees my queer ass on the side of the road dragging a deer out of the way or a turkey vulture off into more natural bush or if I’m trying to get a feather off a bird that’s fallen, it’s only making them think less of me-- and that might be because of the small towns I’m from where everyone knows each other and loves to gossip.

Take the other day, for example. I found a desert tarantula on the road’s shoulder. I was taking pictures, carefully, thinking I’m alone since the spot is fairly secluded. My car was parked in lane with my door open and my music blasting. I started to talk to the tarantula saying ‘oh I think you’re dead :face_holding_back_tears: let me get something to poke you to make sure’. I reached for a long brush-grass and started to poke about. When I’m done, I stand up, turn around and there’s a truck full of people there just staring at me. Startled, I let out a little “Oh my God!” And start laughing at peculiarities as I get in my car to get out of their way. :cowboy_hat_face: now those same people don’t make eye contact with me in public and when I see them, they start whispering while giving me a side eye. Not that I really care what people think

But I feel as though people are too scared to not fit in. If they do something that’s not socialable, then the individual in question is not someone deserving of being in that society; then they become ostracized.


And the whole queerness over playing with dead things has a time-and-place, in society’s eyes. It’s ok if you’re a scientist. It’s ok if you’re going to a museum with it. It’s acceptable if you’re a conservation group looking to see if there were biological means to the end. But it isn’t acceptable for the lay individual to be poking about


This reminds me of the time we put our very young (about 7 at the time) son in a summer day camp that featured a daily hike along the Bruce Trail.

On the second day we got a frantic call from one of the childcare workers (the camp was located at a university campus that sits right on the trail, and staffed by students working towards their Early Childhood Education degree). Apparently on the hike my son was seen picking and eating wild berries along the edge of the trail.

He had explained to them that they were wild raspberries and his Dad and him ate them all the time.

Anyhow, it took quite a few minutes to calm the worker down and assure her that there was nothing to be concerned about.


What did I learn? That you can’t assume that most people know even the most basic facts about the natural world.


I am a member of a couple of foraging groups on Facebook and those groups are full of people desperately eager to go foraging with someone who is experienced! In contrast to the “don’t touch it, don’t poke it, don’t eat it” folks there are many who know that if you are going to eat it, you better really know what it is and you can’t just depend on a picture in a book. So, I think that is a counterbalance to all the “don’t touch it” folks - The “please may I go foraging with you so I can learn enough to touch/eat things without killing myself” folks.


BTW, I am one of those “desperately eager” folks myself, so if you are knowledgeable and in the Portland metro area, please let me know! LOL!


Same. But yet I was required to do the discouraging when I worked in outdoor/environmental education. That was just one more among many factors that made me not stay long in that line of work.


There’s been a couple times I’ve come across dead rats (I live in Chicago) and stopped to just poke it with a stick to get a better look at it and my girlfriend has like freaked out the whole time because she thinks its crazy to mess with dead things. That being said I don’t think I could touch anything living or dead with my bare hands (with the exception of some plants but even then). It freaks me out far to much but I also have contamination OCD which plays a large part in that.


Try palaeontology and get the best of both worlds: long-dead things that are safe to lick. :-)