One thing I would like as a non-expert wanting to help clear the non-identified backlog: it would be helpful to know some basic things that let me sort into the broader taxon levels to get them out of the generic “unknown” category. For example right now I feel like I can identify something as in the Asteraceae family if it is blooming. If I am wrong, it is way up the taxon so doesn’t risk sending something research grade that shouldn’t be, yet it might get the flower to someone who can identify it correctly without them having to wade through the “unknowns”. Are there some things experts recommend that may be hard to distinguish at the genus/species level but pretty easy to place in a higher taxon?
Thanks. One of the problems with gestalt is that in many groups it becomes a difficult concept to convey. How does one explain to an inexperienced moth identifier that species x has about 18 different phenotypes, but there is an overall ‘feeling’ that makes me think this is what it is?I don’t know how plants, or other groups are - does one plant species look speckled or black or white (assuming those are flowers)?There are some moths that I can say 'this is that, just because it looks like that! It’s a concept that is hard to convey.
You are lucky to have “go to” folks. Most of our moth experts are doing their professional work, and find it hard to respond to a “do you think this is the right ID” questions. I try to answer the requests of the folks I am routinely in touch with, but I don’t always know if my advice is correct.
I know very little about plant taxonomy, but the short answer - practice! I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. When I began to identify moths on this page, 30 years after I last identified moths for a living, it was as if I needed to re-learn everything. I tried identifying all moths, which was frustrating. It wasn’t until I settled on one group (Noctuidae) that I began to get that “oh wait, I think that is x, and I know were to look for it.” It’s a long process - pick a group that you know well and learn to identify the species. Eventually you will learn taxonomic terms, and know what to look for in other groups. And you will learn the higher taxonomy of the plant groups. I now know how to identify a moth (generally) from Geometridae to Noctuidae.
We can only do what we can - I had hoped to reduce the number of pages of non confirmed Noctuid observations, now there are more than when I started out this spring! Hope this helps.
i think this is a hard question to answer specifically because each identifier will have a different workflow and may even use different workflows at different times. for example, if we knew there was an oak expert who exclusively identifies starting with observations at family Fagaceae level, then I would recommend Fagaceae as one possible answer to your question. but i get the sense that at least in my area, most plant identifiers are generalists. so getting things to class, order, or family may or may not help in their workflows. off the top of my head, in my area, there may be some people who occasionally do a little bit of specialization for Smilax, Oxalis, Carex, and Poaceae identifications, though i’m not sure if their identification ranges extend to your area. for things other than plants, there are a lots of specialists. so getting things to spiders, ray-finned fish, water bugs, bugs, grasshoppers/crickets, birds, dragonflies/damselflies, will likely funnel to an expert.