Public domain illustrations

Hello all,
I am creating some curriculum for teaching the Tree of Life, and I need a lot of public domain illustrations. I really like using transparent PNG’s of vintage illustrations. For instance:

I often get lucky by looking at the illustrations on Wikipedia’s phylogeny sections. For instance:

However, Wikipedia’s images aren’t all necessarily public domain (especially dinosaurs!).

Does anyone have a tool they use to search for public domain nature illustrations? For instance, I would love a tool to just search “octopus illustration” and get a quality, white background public domain octopus illustration I can use. Any websites, tips or tricks would be appreciated!
(and, any tools for making nice transparent pngs would also be nice to know about)


So, you looked at wikipedia, but have you tried searching wikimedia?

You could also try the Biodiversity Heritage Library:

And to be clear, none of these should be used as iNaturalist observations, but it seems that you are wanting these for a presentation. I just wanted to mention it as occasionally people upload public domain images and then get flagged.


You can Google image search using the tool to filter for CC licensed images :

For “octopus illustration” it leads me to these sites which might be more generally useful too :

Google searches also point to Flickr images…but you can search directly in Flickr as well with a filter according to the sort of license you want :

Screenshot 2022-01-09 at 14.40.46

Then, it might take a bit more searching and photoshopping to pull it out of the original book, but you can also find pdfs of old public domain books with natural history illustrations at Here are some nice echinoderms from ‘Natural history of the animal kingdom for the use of young people’ by William Forsell Kirby, 1889


If you don’t have Photoshop, you can use the free open source photo editor GIMP


I use this type of search as well. Under the “Color” tab Google also lets you search for “transparent” so that can help narrow down the results to those that help you the most.

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google search images has options to filter for transparent, and then for Usage Rights:

3 Likes is a nice, easy to use resource


Online editor
also works well


Take a look at the Biodiversity Heritage Library’s Flickr page:

You can also look through their own webpage directly:

The Biodiversity Heritage Library improves research methodology by collaboratively making biodiversity literature openly available to the world as part of a global biodiversity community.

They have a massive library of images, most, if not all, of which are public domain now. The Flickr page is for images (they’re taking a break in uploading), and their own page includes images, books, field notes, papers, etc.

The image pages on the Flickr page also link to the text the images came from, which can, in most cases, also be downloaded in its entirety. Everything is properly documented as well.

Many of the items in BHL’s collection are in the public domain and free to reuse without risk of copyright infringement. Check the field to determine the copyright status of any given item in our collection.

BHL does our best to indicate the copyright status of each item digitized by our partner institutions. Ultimately, BHL does not hold copyright on the materials in our collection and cannot grant permission. It is up to you to review the copyright status of the image or item you wish to reuse and abide by any copyright restrictions that may apply.

The images tend to be JPGs, but it’s easy to turn them into PNGs. Most image editing software will have a tool to intelligently remove the background if you’re wanting an image that’s just the organism with the former background invisible.

Different image sizes on Flickr can be gotten to by clicking the “Download” icon in the lower right of the image pane, then selecting the image size, or, better, going to the “All Sizes” option and selecting from there.

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Thank you all so much! These are all really helpful sites.

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