How many families have you seen? + lists of insect, plant, and vertebrate families of the world

Hey y’all, I wanted to share the product of a fun recent project of mine and talk about exploring nature by looking for new higher taxonomic groups, ie., not just looking for new species. It might be niche but I bet there are others here who find it fun as well!

I love seeing new species, and I especially like seeing species in taxonomic families I had never seen before. Exploring the natural world at the family level, and higher taxonomic levels too, can be very rewarding! Looking for different families is fun to me personally because by focusing on them you are going to encounter a lot of unique evolutionary history. For example, by prioritizing finding all the insect families in California, rather than every ground beetle species in California, you might encounter more variety of form and function (although both ways are very fun)! Finding families is also often more attainable than trying to see every species in a group. For example, you’ll never be able to see all the bird species in the world, but you might actually be able to see all ~250 bird families (if you have a big budget for travel)…

So with this interest in seeing lots of different taxonomic families, especially of bugs, plants, and vertebrates, I wanted to make a list of all the families I had NOT seen so I could learn more about them and seek them out!

Note that you can’t quite do this using the iNaturalist taxonomy, since a good number of rare families are missing from the iNat taxonomy. For example, the obscure louse family Somaphantidae is valid according to Psocodea Species File, but isn’t on iNat. So, I used more complete taxonomic sources, Catalog of Life (for bugs and verts) and APG IV (for plants), to create lists of all the currently valid insect, plant, and vertebrate families of the world. I also added their common names, if they have one, based on a variety of sources – this is nice for me since I have little knowledge of many of these groups, like fishes. I also want to gradually (but slowly, lol) add a distribution column.

Here are the lists, in the form of formatted google sheets:

You can do some fun things with these lists (to use, just duplicate them into your own account or download them as spreadsheets):

  1. You can tally up the families you’ve seen and the percent you’ve seen. This is the first thing I did, feel free to share below! Warning though: it will take a while if you do it manually!
  2. You can explore how truly diverse and bizarre many groups are, e.g. the eye-opening diversity of the 500+ fish fishes was something that especially amazed me.
  3. You can research the families you haven’t seen, so you can keep an eye out for them in the future! By knowing an organism exists, you greatly increase your chances of seeing it. Plus I’m sure there are many other possible uses!

Everyone has different ways of exploring the natural world, so if this approach doesn’t appeal to you, that’s great – keep doing what you’re doing :) But if it does seem fun, good luck finding new families!

5 Likes

If you ever happen to vacation in the Dominican Republic, keep an eye out for palmchats – they represent a monotypic family, Dulidae, endemic to the one island. And you don’t have to go into remote places, either – anywhere in the countryside where there are royal palms, there will be flocks of them.

2 Likes

Would love to see them! As well as two other endemic families, Calyptophilidae (Chat-tanagers) and Phaenicophilidae (Hispaniolan tanagers).

There’s also a website/community that focuses solely on bird families: http://www.birdfamiliesoftheworld.com

I love that… I did something similar for myself but not as advanced. Would love one of these for the spider families as well… will probably just quickly do those by hand :-)

1 Like

I spent my time today filling in the Bug-table…

Have seen 233 families… much room to improve :-)
Made me also appreciate even more what those Coleopterists, Heteropterists and Lepidopterists can do… wow… what huge groups that are!

3 Likes

In case anyone isn’t aware, it’s possible to count families in the Dynamic Lifelist

Yes, I do know, but it does not show the ones missing so easy

I think that a complete list of plant families would have a Gerald-like effect.

Congrats on 233, that’s a lot! I think spiders would be the next one I would do. Platnick’s Spiders of the World: a Natural History is a great overview of the families if you don’t have it already.

1 Like