Good global criteria when identifying unknowns

Hello everyone!

Lately I’ve been investing some of my free time cleaning up “needs ID” observations in Portugal. If I am at home I usually go for groups in which I have enough knowledge to get the observation to the species/genus level, because at home I can fully dedicate my attention to the process. However, on many ocasions I’m on my break at work, so my attention is always a bit divided between identifying and all the work-related things that can come up. In this case, I prefer to ID “unknowns” in order to get them to a finer level of identification, even if it is still broad, because it is easy to tell if something is a plant, insect, bird, etc.

Like many (or most) people around here, I’m not a specialist in every single “big” taxonomic group, so even when identifying uknowns I feel like I’m not getting the ID to a level as specific as I could.

Because of that, I was wondering if anyone around here has some criteria that could help me get my “unknown IDs” a step further. Somethig along the line of “All plants with X characteristic belong to Y group”, “Fungi that grow like A are all part of B family”, etc etc

Every feedback is welcome!!
Thanks a lot in advance


Here is something that an iNaturalist member put in the forum. Sorry, I was so excited to get it, I neglected to get their name, but, hopefully, someone may inform us after I post this.

Ascomycetes & Basidiomycetes
So this is the most basic split you’re going to find below fungi.

Ascomycetes is really where all the weirdos go. And I’m certainly not an expert on this group, far from it, but this is where you’ll put all the weirds. Yeasts, molds, cordyceps fungi, lichens, tiny little jelly discs and logs and just a few really obvious macrofungi like Morels and Peziza. Most of the stuff here is stuff that is just going to be straight up impossible to ID without microscopy

Genuses of note include
-Morchella - morels. one of the most sought after edibles. Just google this one, trust me, you know what a morel looks like.
-Gyromitra - false morels. They mostly looked like brains on sticks
-Helvella - elfin saddles. They look like… well, saddles on sticks
-Peziza - big cup fungi, for the most part.

Basidiomycetes are where most of our more charismatic macrofungi live, so if its recognizable as a cap-and-stem mushroom it’s safe to put it here. I’ll go so far to say if it is, you’re safe to skip all the way down to Agaricomycetes - I’ll go out on a limb and say almost everything you look at and say ‘that’s a mushroom!’ is going to fit in here, outside of a few rare exceptions. Jellies and such will probably end up in Tremellomycetes but tbh computer vision can at least get you to the ballpark on most of these (if it throws a species, just jump a few levels to say, family, and you’re probably good.)

There is more to it, but I found even just this much to be very helpful.


Source is lothlin in


For ‘easy’ clicks try Kingdom Disagreement. May be homonyms or typos. I do Africa - adjust the location to suit


Maybe I’ll find more time at some point to keep plugging away at that. Or hell, just make some journal entries.


We’d love that :heart:
I bookmarked those posts so I can go back at them when I have time to get my fungi observation out of their kingdom status. It is best explanation I’ve ever gotten on the different families and geni of fungi and explained so much to me on how to better break down ID’ing to more than kingdom fungi. I was so lost before that.
Many many thanks for that! :heart: :heart: :heart:

I’ve been identifying observations stuck at phylum Arthropoda, which is pretty fun. One can often get to a finer ID just by counting legs.

  • 6 legs = hexapoda, and most likely insecta. a lot of beetle and other larvae get identified as myriapods, it’s satisfying to correct those.

  • 8 legs = arachnida, and you can also probably get down to araneae if there’s silk involved

  • many segments and lots of jointed legs usually means myriapoda. 2 pairs of legs per segment = diplopoda, 1 pair of legs per segment = chilopoda EDIT: I forgot about the weird, tiny, shorter ones: symphyla and pauropoda. But those are relatively rare.

  • I don’t have any good tips for crustaceans, but isopods often get identified as another arthropod, so knowing what they look like is helpful.

There are also a lot of egg case observations and gall observations, which I’m not too good at, but I try to annotate those at least.

A few tricky things:

  • pill millipedes and isopods are confusing, so be careful with those.

  • some spiders mimic insects (especially ants) quite well, so make sure those “antennae” are not legs.

  • sometimes arthropods lose legs, which can mess up your count.


My terrible system for plants (there are a lot of plants in the picture?: “review” and move on)
It is a bit complex: vascular.
It has cones: gymnosperm.
It has flowers: angiosperm. You can count petals or sepals? x3= monocots, x4/x5: dicots.
It looks like a daisy or a dandelion = asteraceae.
It looks like ordinary grass = poaceae.
It looks like a ginkgo = Ginkgo biloba (yeah, ID to the lowest possible taxon in that class).
It has been planted on purpose = cultivated.


For flowering plants, you can usually get monocot vs. dicot by looking at leaves. Monocots have parallel veins, but dicots have branched veins.

I would think “Gymnosperms” would usually be ID’s to “conifers” as the exceptions are relatively few like Gingko and some obscure plants like Welwitschia that you would probably almost never see.


With the caveat that some genera of Araceae have broad leaves with branched veins.


jeanphilippeb’s “Unknown” projects are fun to go through. They are unknown but slightly sorted by CV - so for example this is the “arthropod” project:
Some of the things there aren’t arthropods, because the CV can be confused by plants that look like spiders, for example. But you don’t need to be an expert to go through and say if things are spiders, insects, or whatever. There are dozens of different “Unknown” projects Jean-Philippe has created, at all levels - Kingdom, Phylum, Class, etc.


For mollusk shells (Phylum Mollusca), which can be found on the beach, beside freshwater, or even on land:

  1. If the shell is coiled into a spiral-shaped or, if aquatic, is shaped like the classic Chinese hat, it is Gastropoda.

  2. If it looks like it was originally two valves hinged together, then it is Bivalvia – aquatic only

  3. If the shell consist of 7 plates surrounded by a fleshy mantle, it is a chiton, Polyplacophora – marine only. BTW, it is common to find individual plates washed up separately.

  4. If the shell looks like a miniature elephant’s tusk but it is open alll the way through, including at both ends, it is Scaphopoda – marine only.

  5. If the shell looks like a nautilus or an ammonite or the animal looks like a squid or octopus with no visible shell, it is Cephalopoda – marine only.


Looks like grass = Poales to include Juncaceae and Cyperaceae


And we have daisies with longitudinal veins
It took me a while to convince myself that ‘bulb’ is a daisy!
Always the exception to prove the rule. Makes nature interesting.


Even if you make a mistake and call a sedge a grass, at least the observation is no longer an Unknown and has a much better chance of being seen and corrected by someone who can tell a sedge from a grass (or at least push it back to Poales).

I also try to remember that if my mistake rate is one in a thousand, that’s actually pretty good.


Thanks so much for that!

Thank you everyone for the great replies! They’re already saved on my “Identification clues” file, and will be most useful

1 Like

One small addition for insect larvae: if one sees the legs/prolegs, one can refine a bit more, at least for caterpillar-like “worms”. has a table which segments on Lepidoptera (various groups) and Symphyta have legs. Unfortunately I don’t know if there are similar rules for beetle larvae (only thoracic legs?).

And a question: Until now I thought that insect larvae always have <=13 segments, but then I saw having at least 16 segments, ID’d as Insecta by a very proficient IDer. On the other hand, the animal looks too bristly to be a millipede (unless the image is blurry enough to make legs look like caterpillar bristles).

PS: Somebody just added an ID as Diplopoda.

1 Like

This is great. I can walk thru them instead of generic unknowns - much less mushrooms and weeds ;-)

I found the explanation on, as I understand that text the projects are autopopulated using the database and CV recommendations.

PS: what shall I do when I find something tha tdoesn’t fit like e.g. a bone in that project, (see )? Notify someone?

1 Like

I don’t think you need to do anything but what you have done - ID it appropriately. That will help it get IDed further. Having added the “bone” annotation is good too - there are people who know bones that look for that.

1 Like