Best practices when asking a user for a hidden location or to collect and ship a specimen for you

Modified on Thu, 16 May at 7:10 AM

On iNaturalist it’s OK to ask another user for the location of an observation, and you’re allowed to ask them for a specimen, as long as you are not violating the iNaturalist Terms of Use or Community Guidelines, such as using the site for illegal purposes or soliciting anyone.

We ask that you follow these best practices if you do. Because there are malicious actors out there who may use the information for poaching, trafficking, and other nefarious activities, and because collecting and sending specimens is often illegal without the proper permits and licenses, it’s best to be as transparent as possible and make sure you understand and comply with any pertinent laws and ethical practices.

  • Fill out your iNaturalist profile and include information about yourself so that people know who you are, as well as your interests and goals. Then you won’t be an anonymous person asking for sensitive information. If you’re working with an institution, name that institution and provide a link to your page on that institution's website if you have one. Include a link to research you have published as well. You can fill out your profile on your Account Settings page.

  • If you have one, include an institutional email address (such as in your communications so that someone can contact you there rather than a personal email address.

  • If you are asking for the location of an observation, state your motivations as clearly as possible, explain how you will keep that information safe, and exactly how you will use it.

  • If you are asking for a specimen, research the legality of collection and shipment to the greatest extent possible. Many parks, for example, prohibit anyone from taking anything from the park or disturbing the flora and fauna there unless they have a permit or license. Shipping organic material within a country or across international borders is also often illegal without the proper permits or licenses. You should have all of this information at hand and include it in any messages you send or comments you make regarding collection.

  • Do not ask anyone to disclose coordinates in comments or observation notes. You can request a response in a direct message or invite them to join a project where they select "trust this project with hidden coordinates."

  • Do not pay the person for sharing information or sending specimens beyond any cost they might incur, such as shipping costs.

  • Be polite and civil when contacting users.

  • No one is obligated to reply to you, give you any information they don’t want to share, or explain themselves. If they don’t reply, or they decline to participate, please accept that and move on.

Even if you do follow these practices, someone may report your or flag your message. iNaturalist staff will investigate and may contact you about concerns that have been raised by the community.

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