Wild vs. Captive/Cultivated Gray Areas

Lichens growing on a rock. A bulldozer pushes the rock two feet out of the way of a road being built. Lichens are now captive.


No, because the rock wasn’t intentionally moved to move the lichens. A pot being intentionally moved is meant to move the plants.

We have the same situation here. If the organism can be reasonably assumed to have come in through the raw water intake, usually as larva, then it is WILD, and marked at the location of the intake just to make things clear. If the organism came in through live rock, then it is WILD and marked and dated at the location and time of collection. If you don’t know then you have to make a circle around the water intake, and all of your collection sites, and date it unknown year so it won’t be a very useful observation. At that point, just mark it captive unless that organism is not known from anywhere inside that circle or timeframe. The data will not be useful anyway.

It depends in which part of the world, maybe?

There is a range of possible cases between truly feral cattle (as is culled on remote islands), semi-feral cattle (e.g. the Betizu breed managed only for conservation), free-then-rounded cattle (free-range livestock for meat), and Ol’Maggie the dairy cow near its stall.

Several “flavours” can sometimes be found in a same location (as documented in Corsica: unmanaged feral, once-managed abandoned, managed free-ranging)… with episodic flow between them blurring the divide. Local knowledge and observation skills are then required.


That is why I think it is better to usually lean towards “captive” unless there is some sort of good evidence or body of knowledge elsewhere which might suggest otherwise.

Would the organism otherwise be where it was in the first place if it weren’t for deliberate human action and involvement? “Intent” is a funny way of trying to determine whether something is a “wild” animal. How can we be certain that a ball python, for example, didn’t “intend” to be wild-collected and exported out of Ghana, Africa in the first place, then end up end up either escaping or being turned loose at some point later in time in the United States? What about dumped dead domestic pets, where I have seen plenty of times where those would get marked “wild” even though it hasn’t “moved”?

What iNat really needs to do to cleanup these definitions would be to either clarify that the “organism’s intent” applies only to native species within their natural ranges & distributions, as iNat is perhaps better suited to do, or look at only human intent and not the organism’s “intent”.

Well, we talked about animals that are feeding themselves through the year, depending on the species and cicumstances, they can be brought from one pasture to another, but those are not fieds, but open wild spaces, still, people know where their animals are, and find them when it’s needed, it’s done with cows, horses, reindeer; sheep are usually more regulated and often have dogs to guard them. Of course if it’s a known case of feral population, it’s different, but I saw tons of horse observations where people called them wild just because they’re out in the mountains eating, when you drive around with a local man, he can tell you whose horses those are.


An issue about “lifestock” species is also one of cultural bias. Anybody unfamiliar with local peculiarities (regional history, farming practices, etc.) is prone to err on one side or the other depending on their own background and prejudice as to what is (un)likely to be feral.

I too am tired of all the privately-owned, registered, vaccinated, dewormed, human-loving, free-ranging cows/goats/pigs/horses being called ‘wild’ when they are just ‘not fenced’… and now they’re even labelled as such due to iNat’s criterion of “being there of its own accord”! The fact that there’s no crystal-clear rule(s) prompting a cautious approach about common pet/livestock species does not help. For a start, even if not perfect… maybe encouraging observers to preferably label not-wild any [ear, bell, necklace, paint, whatever]-marked individual of those well-known pet/livestock species could be a sensible addition to the current rule?


Myself I always mark such specimens, exception is the dogs, where ear tags are used on sterelized feral dogs.


-garden plant spreading vegetatively beyond cultivation through runners or rhizomes (but importantly, not by seed)

For me it’s captive. You can’t really say it’s a different individual as long as it is still attached to the initial plant, which is captive.


This doesn’t really seem all that hard. Did a person put it where it is?

No – It’s wild.

Yes. Did the person put it there on purpose?
Yes – Not wild.
No – Wild.

Nothing in this decision tree asks about habitat. After all, bluebirds and Tree Swallows don’t cease to be wild when they use bird houses somebody made.


The livestock example seems to be the tricky one for me when thinking about hogs. First, are they livestock? Def. “livestock - farm animals regarded as an asset.” Some may be. The landowners that released them or just feed (often via baiting) probably consider them an asset. So let’s consider them livestock. But the example also has more language in it to muddy the waters, “free-roaming and aren’t bound by fencing or pens”. If they’re free roaming, how could they be claimed? An asset is property owned by a person or company, regarded as having value and available to meet debts. Plenty of hogs would fail to meet the availability test. Some (most?) don’t ever return to the landowner property or have a low chance of returning. The landowner knows this which is why they bait and often set up blinds, bait, and shooting lanes right on property lines. I would hesitate to mark any hogs as captive unless they’re fenced or on bait.

Some free roaming livestock may be captive. Mostly it’s the well behaved ones or clearly marked and retrievable. Others are wild. And how can you tell based on a brief encounter? Dunno. I would probably take the observers word over anyone working with just the information in an iNat record.

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In North America, wild vs. captive hogs aren’t usually had to distinguish. The true wild awns are big, dark brown, with narrow backs (the Razorbacks team is named for them). Our cultivated hogs are rounder with flatter backs. Most are white or spotted or banded with white. Some are black or reddish brown. Domestic hogs do occasionally escape, but they do a lot of damage so farmers usually shoot them if they can’t round them back up.

The biggest problem (for telling captive from wild) would be where farmers let the hogs out into the woods in fall to forage for acorns and other wild food. Long ago, everybody did that, but any more almost nobody does. So it’s not usually a problem, but if you see a whole herd of spotted young hogs that’s probably what’s going on.

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Yes. South. WAY down South. Next stop Antarctica.
But not as far North as Marina.

And neither of us is from America.

But in iNat it is about - this moment and what you are observing.
Scientists who use this data have to evaluate and interpret.
As @sedgequeen has explained.

  1. Invasive and introduced. We use iNat for borer beetle invasion, and invasive plants.

INappropriate intended?

Well, I can look at it either way: Principal investigators do need lower-level help to do early-stage analysis and cleanup of their datasets. Usually, it would be the (maybe low paid) tech assistants, undergrad assistants, and early graduate assistants doing this type of work. Here, we have a free volunteer corps serving in some of that capacity. “For Science!”

But it should not all have to be done right here though. I would certainly hope that our earliest-stage analysis for PIs of the future would still be followed by their standard early-stage assessment, using their own staff. For science, it’s appropriate be a supplement to that process, not a replacement.

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Yes, and corrected.

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I’ve read over all the replies here this morning and agree with most; though I’d have to be a bit more exacting in my wording than some suggest but something that probably would be done anyway.

Most interestingly, I ran into one of those grey areas today. I’m not sure who is right or wrong or if either of us is wrong - we could agree to disagree :)

In all fairness, the the commenter, I could have been more detailed in the origin of the plants but I felt the first two sentences covered it. Nonetheless. I added everything in the notes beyond those two sentences today so he has probably not seen it yet and had time to respond. Nonetheless, what is your opinion?



Last week, in a national forest, I came across a patch of plants which seemed to have been sowed at one time. That area also had a recent managed burn, so these seeds survived that. The issue of cultivated or not will never be resolved when it gets to issues as this, I don’t think. I posted those plants and noted that I thought they might have been seeded at one time in the explanation. Similarly for roadsides which state highway departments often seed with wildflowers. If not mowed when seeds are being produced, these, theoretically, should keep reproducing so constant reseeding is not necessary.

As someone who tries to dig out all non-native invasives in our place, I find them sprouting over our acreage, probably a result of birds. I certainly didn’t cultivate them and I don’t think the birds did so either, intentionally. Isn’t this a way wild plants get propagated also?


In my view, trimmed parts of garden/exotic plants (bulbs, stems, cuttings… there’s reproduction beyond seeds!) managing to survive transportation with garbage, then to reestablish populations in dumps and landfills… are not cultivated per se. No one really intended to have them grow, and certainly not grow at this peculiar location. The same would apply to e.g. tomato seeds germinating from tourist poo: it’s accidental introduction rather than gardening skills. :poop:

Slightly off-topic: even in the case of a voluntary introduction in a wild environment, I personally consider that the later individuals arising (via seeds, cuttings, bulbils…) beyond the initial planting/management effort, should be considered “wild”. For conservation purpose, these new individuals are at the front line of naturalization - better keep an eye on them in the absence of any rightful owner/gardener (~“res nullius”).