Identification for beginners

What are some easy species for beginners to identify to start whittling down some of the outstanding observations? In other words, what are some species that look different enough from related species that it is easy to tell them apart and therefore pretty accurate for newbies to start helping?

I mostly broadly categorize the Unknown pool now because I know I am not an expert in anything and I don’t want to confirm an ID at the species level knowing that I very well could be wrong.

For example, I would identify creeping charlie which is fairly easy to tell apart from the other mints and ajugas which is the only species level ID I would feel comfortable making.


Birds in your region can be a good place to start.


Another one is common selfheal. I think you’ll find quite a lot of it to confirm from Iceland to North Carolina and on!:herb:

There really aren’t any “easy” species. It’s more a matter of interest. Birds and butterflies and flowers seem easy because lots of people like them and there’s a ton of books available to help IDs. And that would also be my advice for picking a group to learn. Pick something you think is fun and that has decent ID references or a local expert you can sponge off.

Learning anything is hard work. Learning something fun takes the edge off the work. You’ll still have ups and downs as you learn but the fun part will push you through the down times.


It’s buried deep in the Getting Started pages, but this page has some tips for identifying some common species with very broad distributions as well as tips for refining identifications of Arachnids.


Wow, this is exactly the advice I give my college students about major, major specialty and career plans! (Often it’s contrary to what their parents have told them but that’s a subject for a different site heh.)


One of the most helpful things, and a good way to get started, is to go through the ones that have no identification or suggestion at all, the ones that are just classified as “life”.

Break those down into the simple categories (birds, monocots, dicots, ray-finned fishes, etc). Where you can get them more specific.

That seems like a silly and basic thing, but it really does help a lot as those uncategorized observations are often missing from searches.

When a taxa catches your interest, or when you find that you’re coming across ones that you know decently well, then delve deeper.


Here’s your top species in Wisconsin, although I’m not from that area so I don’t know which are “easy” per say:

I could teach you some species but they’d probably be California plants ;) You could learn some flower shapes indicative of certain taxa, such as the pea shape for Faboideae and the daisy shape for Asteraceae.


I mostly go through observations recorded as Unknown. Many observations entered as Unknown do not get reviewed, so it helps to add even a very high level ID.

I’m not a biologist nor botanist, but I can sort things into major categories like Insects, Fungi, or Birds. I sometimes consider the computer vision suggestions when sorting through Unknowns, but those can be misleading sometimes.


Excellent advice and a good birdwatcher book too

I’m sorry, my English is very bad


:) Welcome to the Forum. Looking forward to hearing more from you.


This is a very broad question. It largely depends on your background and interests. If I gave you a list of easy Noctuid moths, would that interest you? Best advice is to stick with what you know. One thing I have found useful is to pick one taxon - like creeping charlie - enter the name into the ID search. Identify all the observations in that taxon, keeping in mind that some may not be identified correctly. It will get you used to looking at specific features, viewing plants from different angles, and different lighting. As well as learning the characteristics of the species. If you find a wrong ID, look up what it might be and offer a suggestion based on what you have learned. You may be correct, or will (should) be informed of why. If that group is already well identified, then select another that you know. It’s a matter of building experience with identification. Push yourself if you want, but initially I would say to stick with what you know. I don’t know plants, so rarely attempt an identification. I know Noctuid moths, so I stick there.
And don’t be afraid to add a species ID - it’s really only a suggestion (unless you are confirming one), and it’s a good way to learn. Also don’t be afraid to ask questions, or use leaderboards to ask for confirmation if you are uncertain.


Your English is fine!

Welcome to the forum!


I think we should all remember that identifying species improves over time as we become more knowledgeable and practiced.

Always best to have a reference book or resource at hand to double-check our hunches!


I think lady beetles are a decent group to start with. At least where I am, by far the two most common species are Seven-spotted and Asian, which are very distinctive. So even if you just identified those two species and skipped observations of everything else you’d be contributing a lot of identifications. However, many of the less common species are also fairly distinctive in general so as you get more comfortable with the differences you can start learning more species and identifying a greater portion of the observations. So it seems like a more gentle learning curve with the vast majority of observations being fairly easy to identify.


My approach has been to restrict the geographic region to my home province when helping to identify unknowns. That, largely simplifies the problem, since I don’t need to worry as much about misidentifying plants as a similar species which only grows in Asia, for instance. It also helps that I can consult with online guides that are written for my region. And for my own edification, these are plants that I’m likely to see when I’m out for a hike in the future.

If you go through a few pages of the needs ID category for your home region, you’ll probably be able to pick out a few common ones that you can focus on.


Yea, another identifier!! If there are species in your area that you’re familiar with, I’d start there. I looked at a few of your observations. The iconic wildflowers are a good place to start learning how to differentiate plants. I saw these in your observations:
** Chicory (blue), Cichorium intybus. Although the Asteraceae (sunflowers and asters) can be tricky, this one stands out in many regions by its identifiable color and shape.
** Jewelweeds and Impatiens, Genus Impatiens: It looks like you have three species of Jewelweed in Wisconsin. They’re similar but slightly different. You’d have to study up on the different species but at least it’s easy to ID to genus because of flower shape.

A good way to learn is to subscribe to a genus or subfamily (or tribe or any level you like). That way you see what other identifiers have to say about them and which identifications get corrected.

A helpful thing to do would be to go through older Unknown and help move them to a general taxon. You can use Filter to sort them in ascending order to see the older ones first. As you go through the Identify screen, if you see one you know you can’t help with, you can mark it reviewed so you don’t keep seeing it. There’s a check box or you can type the letter “r” on your computer. That’s what I do with microscope slide photos.

Also, it would be a big service to go through the Casual observations and see if you can help. They often get ignored because they’re Captive/Cultivated or because they’re missing the date or location. Most people filter those out of their searches. A lot of beginners seem to give up when they submit identifications with something missing or (good for them!) marked captive/cultivated and then don’t get any identifications. You can find boilerplate text for explaining the importance of date or location (and tons of other things) here:

And here’s one of my own boilerplate responses for folks with mostly captive/cultivated observations: “I encourage you to go out and observe some wild things: weeds, bugs, birds. I like to take pictures of bugs attracted to my porch light; things visiting my plants and walls; the weeds in my neighborhood yards; wildflowers from an undeveloped area nearby. Did you know you can use a sound recording of bird calls as your evidence file and people will identify the bird from its song? I think that’s cool. I’ve even had frogs and insects IDed from an audio file I made from a cell phone video.”


Lots of good suggestions here! One caution: Realize that the very oldest “unknowns” and “needs IDs” have been seen multiple times and there is something wrong with the picture or the taxonomy or both. Better to go back a year or two. Much help is needed there!

I’ve been expanding my knowledge (and wasting time usefully) by picking a plant or animal that I think is distinctive and looking through many of the “needs ID” pictures, sometime the “research grade” as well. (I like searching for the genus name, not the species, because I find observations for which the identification stopped at the genus.) Sometimes I learn cool things. For example, several of our more attractive woodland wildflowers from the Pacific Northwest are now growing wild in Europe. Sometimes I learn not-so-cool things, like that there are other species of millipede that look just like are common PNW one, and they get mutually misidentified, sometimes by me. Sometimes I learn that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did about a group, and I have to go back and withdraw some of my “helpful” identifications. Sigh.

There are lots of ways to approach identifications, and they all help.


There are a few experts on here who often take the time to provide written explanations for their identifications. If you come across such an expert, try searching for all of their identifications and reading them. Many are good at pointing out the easiest ways to differentiate closely related species. I find that reading a bunch of scattered comment tips is often mentally easier than looking up the same stuff in a field guide, for whatever reason.


I’m not sure I understand the question. Are you asking what species are easiest for a beginning naturalist to develop confidence in identifying, or what species are unique enough that a relatively novice naturalist can contribute in reducing a backlog of “needs identification” postings? The distinction may be mote given the quality of answers provided by others, and I’m not sure the question can be adequately answered in any case, but here are some thoughts.

Ease of identification will depend on the quality of the photo. Some are so blurry or show so few features that identification is unlikely by anyone. That said, years of observing a given animal or plant may provide a familiarity that allows identification based on features that are virtually impossible to describe and won’t be found in any guide or key but can still be dependable. (Birders call this g.i.s.s.: “general impression, size and shape”, a system that goes back to identifying airplanes in WW2 and a whole other conversation!) That leads to the general principal that the more time spent observing a species, or group of species, in the field the more proficient you will become in identifying them.

I will echo others in saying pick a taxa that you find interesting and dive in! It’s certainly easiest if it’s a group that have lots of field guides available, like birds or butterflies. Within each and every taxa there were will be groups that are harder than others. Flycatchers may be confusing; most ducks less so. There is probably no one group of organisms that you can single out that are easy to identify. There is almost always problem group of species. In the end I think that’s what keeps it interesting