Help me identify (non-experts welcome)

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hi everyone,
Allograpta is a genus of hover flies with 2 species common in the US. At first glance they look pretty similar but I think after learning how to distinguish them they’re relatively easy from most observations. And there are a lot of observations of them as they’re very common.
The species are Allograpta obliqua and A. exotica. A. obliqua is common pretty much everywhere in North America, while A. exotica is common mostly in the southern half of the US (I think both are common in Central and South America, but there are lots of other Allograpta species there).

The most reliable feature to separate the 2 species is a section of the thorax called the katepimeron. In A. obliqua it is white, while in A. exotica it is black. It’s located about halfway between the base of the wings and the base of the middle and hind legs. It is marked with arrows in this image: https://bugguide.net/node/view/757809 (note that the face stripe mentioned there is not reliable for separating them)
Here are photos of each species as well to compare:
https://bugguide.net/node/view/1107106
https://bugguide.net/node/view/642078

Unfortunately most observations don’t show the katepimeron, but they almost always show the abdomen pattern. There are some features there that can generally be used to separate the species (copied from here):

  1. 2 narrow yellow bands/triangles near the base of tergite 2 (basically the very base of the abdomen) narrowing out towards the centre (present in obliqua, absent in exotica so that the base of T2 is all black).

  2. Narrow yellow band along the entire base of tergite 4 (obliqua has it, exotica does not).

  3. The “leaf-shaped” spots on the side of tergite 4 are usually closer to parallel to the centre pair of stripes, whereas in exotica they are usually closer to 45* or more away from them (exotica also has these spots connected to the centre pair of stripes like this more often, but both can have that).

  4. obliqua seems to often have more orangey-yellow stripes, whereas exotica often has more creamy or whiter yellow stripes.

That probably sounds complicated, but once you get an idea of what it looks like it’s not that bad. Just try to make sure most of those features are in alignment. The first image is a pretty clear A. obliqua, while the second one is a pretty clear A. exotica:
image


They are variable and there are some that are intermediate, but I think most are identifiable. You can get an idea of the variation possible within each species by looking through their image galleries:
Allograpta obliqua
Allograpta exotica

If you’re interested in helping identify these, here is a filter for all Needs ID observations of the genus in Canada and the US: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/identify?taxon_id=118969&place_id=1%2C6712
If you want clarification on anything, please don’t hesitate to ask here or tag me in an observation. Feel free to skip over any that you’re not sure about.
Thank you!

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Thank you to everyone who’s helped so far! We are down 30+ pages from what was there last week.

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It would be helpful if this thread joined forces with the computer vision correction thread. I’d like to help them but I don’t know any of those species.

If you check the flags linked on that topic, some of them have tips to ID, like:
https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/425901
https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/427929
https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/425598
https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/427440
https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/423140