Do you keep a life list?

On an observation I came across just now someone mentioned a ‘life species’…that is, an observation of a species new to them. I tried keeping a life list of reptiles during my grad school days, but working in the Amazon with so many undescribed species or species that were only identified well after we collected them, the effort seemed futile and I gave up.

Of course, that was prior to the advent of online tools like iNaturalist where all the work is done for you. Plus it seems like life lists are much more a thing done by birders than by herpers, though I certainly know some who keep such a list.

So my question is: do you keep a life list of species you have encountered? If so, is this taxon specific (birds, reptiles, plants, etc), or is it a general list of all kinds of things you have observed?

Personally, I think iNaturalist has become my de-facto life list. If I want to know if I’ve encountered a species, I’ll just check my observations to recall having done so.

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INat is my de facto life list, although I don’t have photos of every species I’ve seen. Some I have photo’d are still on slides that I hope to digitize someday and add to iNat. Others I’ve never photo’d and so probably won’t be added to iNat or if I do they’ll be casual.

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I photo mostly birds, herps, mammals when possible. Plants, but not consistently. Most anything that I can get a decent shot of.

Do casual records (no photo) even count towards the iNat life list? I never checked.

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I used to make a check marks in the index of my identification books. Different marks for whether I have a photo.

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Like a code book.

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I have a vague life list running in my head, but not a formal one - iNat is probably the closest I come for that. And yes, for tropical species where I really have no idea, I just kind of let those go!

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I started my life list (birds) when I was 14. I remember my impatience because of course I’d seen robins before but I hadn’t see one yet that first year – would spring ever come? About 2/3 of the birds are from North America (ah, nostalgia for the years when I traveled). Now I don’t bird so seriously so I don’t look at the list from one year to the next. However, like @cthawley I have a vague list in my head and I’m pleased on the rare occasions when I find a new one.

I’ve occasionally thought of making a life list for other organisms but I haven’t. iNaturalist works for ones I see now, but there were decades before that. Oh, well.

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Still do – but for me, not in the index. If the book comes with a checklist, as bird guides often do, I make the check marks there. If not, I make them next to the species account.

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No. I never quite understood the point. Nobody else cares whether or not I have seen something before and most of the time I don’t either. A list feels too competitive. If I see them all I win. If I don’t I lose. Meh.

I do remember many firsts though. The first times I saw a grizzly bear, an African elephant, a Nile crocodile, and an Orca are burned in my brain. I remember the first time I identified ‘wild’ asparagus in the field. I also remember the thrill of identifying, frying and eating morels.

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I think that’s probably the point of life lists, to remind one of those firsts. Like you, I vividly remember some of my firsts…first Indigo Snake, first Moose, first Golden Eagle, first Turtle (of any kind).

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Definitely worth remembering.

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I only use iNat to track my lifers. I’m not using the list to compete with anyone else, but I do use it as a motivator for myself.

I started using iNat during the pandemic, when it became part of a personal goal to hike more trails that I’d never hiked before. Each observation became a dot on the map to trace all of the trails I’d been on, and my standing challenge to myself was “where can I go to put some more dots on the map?” (And all of that during the year when “we couldn’t go anywhere.”)

As a additional incentive, I had a further goal to find at least one lifer on each of my hikes. Easy enough during the first year, but it get progressively harder, forcing me to pay attention to things I might have passed by, before.

Then, beyond being a lifer, there’s further satisfaction if the observation is more unusual. First in a particular park, first in a county, first in a state–then it becomes something that might have broader scientific significance than a check box on a private list.

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I have been keeping an annotated herp life list for about thirty years: my website http://wildherps.com. It started out as a project to learn HTML in the early days of the web, but I soon got hooked on the dopamine of finding a species I hadn’t seen before, and it led me to a lot of wonderful travel around the country and the world. I still maintain it, though nowadays I enter everything in iNaturalist first and only eventually get around to updating wildherps.com.

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Yesn’t…
Before iNaturalist, I still saved all sorts of photos of different insects and plants I liked. However, I only kept the cool/good looking ones.

I also used to keep a vague list in my head so as to minimise “duplicates” in my iNat observations, but in a few cases I’ve photographed species that looked essentially similar but belonged to different taxa, so I kinda just gave up on that and photograph everything that doesn’t move away fast enough.

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But then how can you effectively name-drop all the species you’ve seen to gain the admiration of other nature nerds? ;-)

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I have a bird and mammal life list and a thorough yard list for my current residence (recently passed 1,475 arthropod species).

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I recently uploaded a bunch of observations from scanned slides from my grad school days. This was after I went through and ID’d a bunch of the same species here on iNat. So, imagine my surprise when I realized I had actually seen some of the species I was identifying, but had no actual memory of ever seeing that thing before. Not only had I seen it and forgotten it, I had pictures of it to prove it. That to me is one of the useful aspects of life lists…as a memory aid. To remind oneself of where and when one encountered something. Of course, this is kinda how I use iNat now…as an online memory aid of where and when I saw something. For documenting where my some of my field collection sites are, I think this will be valuable to some future biologist as well so they don’t have to parse out cryptic references in papers like 15 km NE of such-and-such town. The data are there if someone is really keen to know.

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I have a google doc with an associated iNaturalist “list,” so that I can include species I’ve seen but not photographed but exclude those that I’ve made observations of but not actually seen alive.

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I would more call my life list my spider list (I don’t really keep track of any other organisms :)

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