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

For me it depends on what it is. A fish, a snake, a mouse, a bird; no problem. Coming across someone’s deceased cat or dog though, I guess that hits too close to home. I can’t poke or prod someone’s former companion without feeling uncomfortable. I suppose if I was a vet I might feel differently. Also the state of decomposition factors in. A fresh kill to me is relatively easy. Skeletal remains even more so, as I feel like it’s more abstract. But in-between when it’s smelling ripe, crawling with maggots… not my cup of tea.


There’s that, and then there’s the observations of someone holding poison ivy leaves for a picture…


i don’t personally think it is a new thing, i feel like if anything people were MORE disconnected from nature in the 80s and 90s when i was growing up. It’s a normal thing to not want to touch a rotting animal corpse, though i am too of the sort who would likely poke it with a stick :laughing:


I’ve held House Centipedes before. Tickles!


Oh you mean like my idiot butt did here before I realized?

(I’m legitimately starting to think I’m not allergic to it anymore, the last time I remember getting a poison ivy rash was when I was a child)


I think it is a combination of a few things. On one hand, there is a disconnect with nature among many. Too many people just don’t know about nature and can be afraid of it. On the other hand, those that are more nature savvy are becoming more aware of the damage that can be caused by mishandling wildlife or interacting too much with live wildlife. I’m a big proponent of if in doubt, leave it alone, but it really depends on how knowledgeable are you with the type of organism, if it is alive or dead and how necessary is it to handle. In my job, I run into too many people that will harass wildlife and disturb / destroy habitat all to get a better picture or find that one rarity. With dead animals though, there is more leeway to examine in many cases.


The last time i poked at a dead animal a bunch of carrion beetles ran out. Which was neat for me but not so fun for the carrion beetles. Poking a dead animal certainly won’t harm the already deceased animal, but it isn’t always true it has no impact whatsoever. On the other hand sometimes it can be overall a beneficial impact, such as moving a dead animal off the road so scavengers don’t also get run over.


We used to teach Ecological Mammalogy in the US Rocky Mountains in the summers. At the end of the class we would give the “Golden Clothespin award” (a spray-painted gold clothespin) to the student who had brought in the stinkiest roadkill (the clothespin was for one’s nose). The winner of course was a skunk. The students had roped it to the fender to bring it back.


We had to move it in a dumpster, not a fender, to get it to the landfill, but the stinkiest dead experience I’ve ever had was this humpback necropsy on a hot summer day - honestly the trash was almost worse than the whale. At least I didn’t fall in, so my waders didn’t overtop while in the body cavity like some other folks…

But just goes to show that, for all the folks who don’t want to poke the dead things, there are still plenty of people excited to cut up a dead whale under the stinkiest conditions.


I know exactly what you mean. As a kid I was always naturally curious, doing exactly that, poking dead things with sticks, picking up frogs and snakes etc… but going to school in a suburban neighbourhood, I was the ‘weird’ kid in elementary school who wouldn’t be afraid of picking up bugs or one time I dissected a dead seagull in the courtyard. I think the underlying problem is overcautious parenting. My mom was super supportive of frog catching and picking up snakes because thats how she grew up, but a lot of other parents that don’t have that those experiences are scared (of dead things especially). As soon as someone says the safety word, all the parents these days freak out! its really a shame because you’re right its separating kids from an important hands-on (literally) part of science education


I don’t mind poking / moving dead things, and scat I do break up at times to see what the animal has been dining on. And I used to not mind picking up creatures - some, such as invasives I still don’t mind meddling with, however, I do not like to stress any wild animal any more as they are stressed enough by our noise, light, development and human activities. Sometimes I fear maybe even my infrequent walks in fields and along streams is modifying the natural environment about me.


Same. It’s those red leaves! There was no way for us to know! :-)

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The only dead animals I’m willing to handle are insects, and I make sure to thoroughly wash my hands afterwards (there are probably billions of germs on the feet of flies).

But the photos are worth it!



Poison ivy rash that took 3 months to go away, plus poison sumac, barberry and other plant allergies prompted my personal look only policy. I did use a stick to turn over a dead box turtle I came across earlier this week to get a picture.


I’ve had versions of this conversation with various people, over the years. As a biologist, whose job often involved handling animals (living or dead), I probably developed a different sense of these sorts of things. After running as fast as i could in an effort to minimize the amount of elephant gut content I got hit with when one of the guys conducting the bush post-mortem on a poached animal accidentally punctured the very bloated stomach and initiated a really impressive fountain of stinking sludge that thoroughly coated those standing closest, my standard for acceptable risk may have suffered.

Anyway, I live with dogs and cats whose hygiene is probably as much an issue as anything else I might touch. My black lab will eat almost anything even vaguely organic and expect to be patted on the head for his efforts. He sleeps on my bed.

My rules come down to don’t be stupid, wash your hands and any other parts that contact potentially contaminated anything, treat wildlife with care and respect and generally just think about what you’re doing.

And if you get fermented elephant gastro-intestinal stuff on yourself, change your shirt.


I have a badge that says “Ask me about iNaturalist!” in big font and I think that having a badge really makes people think I’m some kind of authority figure which helps when I’m doing weird naturalist behaviors. Today for example I walked by this Bald-faced hornet hive I’d been observing but unfortunately, someone had doused it in insecticide and smashed if from the tree. I’m poking around in the guts and this older lady at the bus stop was giving me weird looks until she glanced down at the badge and then she walked over and we had a nice conversation about urban ecology and human/hornet interactions.


Tell that to the Morrison Formation!


I think the benefit gained by people becoming aware of nature and learning how to care for it outweighs the cost of disturbing the ecosystem whilst learning. I see much more harmful activities being done by people without that knowledge or care for the ecosystem. The other group are those who just want to ‘tick off’ a species without thinking about the impact they may have.

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Poking dead stuff with a stick seems harmless enough and I’ve done that, too, but there may be some good reasons to take precautions when touching things including plants. I know a lot of the discussion has centered around animals, but here’s a good reason not to touch plants that has nothing to do with rashes or allergies. (For those who don’t feel like clicking the link: Touching plants can spread pathogens, which can have a detrimental impact on susceptible species. As any horticulturist can tell you, humans and their tools are vectors for plant diseases such as viruses or fungi and that also applies out in nature and not just in a garden setting.)


while poking with a stick is generally safe please do remember handling animal corpses CAN be dangerous or even rarely fatal…


Eric was an amazing wildlife ecologist too :(