HomeHelpIdentify living things
There are three things you will need to identify an organism.

Getting started

This is your list of things that might be found living in the wild. It should be as comprehensive as possible, otherwise it is impossible to know if there is another species in the same range with the same field marks. It must include the scientific name (genus and species) for each item on the list, because it is not unusual for the same common name to be associated with unrelated things. Items on the list should be grouped in a meaningful way, such as by class then family, such that you can place your specimen first in a family before narrowing down to genus and species. Having a list that is targeted to your specific location will help keep the size manageable. An ideal checklist may also include seasonal information, such as when a bird's migration takes it through your area or when a plant is expected to flower. Ready to see what lives in Texas? Click the Texas tab above.
Compact camera
Digital camera
You need a way to refer back to the details of your specimen as you try to identify it with the help of field guides or any other resources. Of course you may not need a camera if you have collected your specimen, but collection should be done only on your own property or with permission. Having a permanent record allows you to go back and reevaluate the observation if any anytime you are are not 100% confident in the original identification, for example if you realize only later that something very similar exists in the same area. A digital image makes it easier to get help through internet resources such as Flickr identification groups, iNaturalist.org, or BugGuide.net. Contributing to sites like these and many others enables projects, such as Texas Nature, to use your data for research purposes.
Your Local Library
Library card
and an internet connection, and friends who know stuff.

Putting it in action

No image available.
Top down method
The Top Down Method is the most scientific approch. Starting at a point of confidence, you methodically select a subset of possibilities, until you have identified your specimen, or at least have narrowed it down to a few choices.
No image available.
Bottom up method
It's okay to cheat, as long as your final answer is correct.
No image available.
Brute force method
If the top down method is the right way to identify a species, then brute force is the wrong way. Starting with a set of possibilities, you walk through them one by one, reading a detailed description of each, until you find the correct match.
No image available.
Ask an expert