Tips and methods to increase your species count (how to find new things)

In January 2022, I found that my interest extended to all living/extinct organisms from just molluscs, thanks to iNaturalist.

Since then, as a simple goal, I started aiming to observe, identify and post as many species (leaf taxa- not strict “species”) as possible.
At first, I struggled to find personal new species after posting all the molluscs and weeds I could find, however, after putting some effort on iNatting, I found some effective observing methods, such as:

・posting shells and algae washed up on the beach
・posting lichens
・beating for insects
・light traps / looking for insect-attractive lights in villages
・walking in a local bush at night to find nocturnal insects

I’d like to know if there are any other special observing methods (there must be plenty) to increase species counts, so we can try getting more occurence data for often-overlooked species.

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I’d say methods depend on % of possible species you have already seen, if it’s less than a third, just walking and documenting everything your eye lays on will bring you lifers each day in warm months. Then, the harder it gets to get new species, additional activities may be needed, invertebrates and plants generate the most of idable species, with plants it’s easy, just don’t ignore them, including little ones (esp. mosses), invertebrates may need what you describe – night lights,
getting into rotting logs,
looking under fallen leaves,
visiting flowers that attract the most pollinators (e.g. Apiaceae),
check tree trunks,
if you have a private land, have a habit to make circling checks of it each 30m/hour or as often as you wish,
try to find a spot that is visited by flies, there’s always one that attracts them,
or maybe put a piece of meat/food to do the same.
You also could do more birding. If you’re near the coast, visiting it at night brings much more animal life.

Also, don’t ignore what your life list tells you about missing species, it’s a nice way to find where the most observed species are found. Using “easily missed” utilite must be useful too.


I’ve found that it is worthwhile paying attention to plant pests – galls, leaf mines, mildew/rust, etc. You may have to research them yourself if you want an ID, but since they are generally host specific, it is a good way to record species that are often not observed very often on iNat. There are a number of forum threads and iNat projects on galls that may be helpful.

(I was going to suggest soil fauna, but after reading your profile I assume you’ve already covered this.)

You also might look at this thread for inspiration:
Or, possibly, this one, on organisms in novel/artificial habitats:


Go to unusual habitats. If you usually walk in closed-canopy forests, try fields or shrubby habitats. Find areas of acidic vs. rich bedrock. Areas over deep sand deposits. Wetlands of all sorts, from the ocean to estuaries to rivers to tiny streams to marshes, swamps, bogs, seeps. Areas with different land-use histories (land use by humans, that is).

If you’ve concentrated on invertebrates up to now, learn plants and fungi - even vertebrates!

Look at iNat observations for your general area and see what uncommon species the most prolific observers are finding there. There’s probably someone toiling away documenting terrestrial snails or liverworts or the shed exuvia of dragonfly nymphs; if they are finding these species 25 miles from you, there’s a good chance the species are in your local area as well.

Caves! Groundwater sources! For that matter, bridge abutments over rivers and streams - go look at the vertical walls rising out of the water. You’ll find exuvia of odonates, stoneflies, and mayflies, plus tons of spiders. While you’re standing there with wet feet, might as well dredge the river substrate for invertebrates. Or just get a waterproof camera and immerse yourself completely. Or buy a kayak and paddle among the floating and emergent vegetation; there might be lots of snails clinging to the undersides, among other cool critters.


As opposed to impoverished rocks?

Simply having a camera with you is a great start. As I posted in the “best of 2022” thread, I found a new wasp for my state (on iNat) while doing my day job.

Checking lighted areas at night increased my moth list by 150 species in 2022. Also, creating and improving habitat in your garden or local park is a great way to attract rare insects. For example, half of these bee sightings are in my pollinator garden


Ha! Sorry about that - around here (New England), botanists commonly talk about “rich” soils, which are derived from bedrock that is calcareous or circumneutral and tends to have more scarce minerals than acidic bedrock.


Got it!

Majority of soils in New Mexico are alkaline and nutrient poor, derived from “decomposed” granite and weathered sandstone and shale. It’s relevant to the topic, because we have some rare endemic plants that only grow on certain geologic formations - for example, mancos milkvetch on mancos shale in NW New Mexico - that one could search for to increase their life list.


Someday, I want to come to New Mexico and wander around with you (assuming you agree!). I spent a week in southeastern Arizona in August - my first trip to the southwest - and I had a fantastic time seeing habitats I’d never seen before.


You don’t even have to be a diver or a rock-climbing outdoor person to explore different locales. I love that I found a bunch of living critters on the wall of a little known pedestrian road underpass this week --first week of January! (Location: Ontario, Canada)

I also always check out outdoor walls and buildings (being careful not to get arrested lurking about a park’s outdoor public washrooms). Garbage cans! Great flying bug (and flying bug predator) hook-up joints. And don’t forget your garden centres! 'Like shooting fish’s perhaps, but I’ve also found a few accidental tropical hitchhikers too.

But by far for me, the biggest boost in animal species count I have to attribute to putting together a good macro field system that works well down to the 2mm range. The Olympus TG5 I got late summer really lit that fuse. You won’t believe how many species are either rarely or perhaps never spotted in your area simply because they’re too tiny to notice by most observers.

I once spotted 3 new-to-my-area really tiny guys that landed on my brother’s pant leg as we were just sitting at a picnic table! (I should make it clear that this was a reflection of the park’s healthy biodiversity, not my brother’s personal hygiene level.)

A good macro range also opens you up to noticing tiny plants and fungi.

It’s important to also really take advantage of something that only emerged in recent years with digital photography: shot volume. Naturalists (and photographers) of yore would have sold all of their spare organs for our incredibly low cost of actually capturing and storing images these days. That’s why I prefer to shoot first, ask identification questions later in so much of my stuff. Better to wade through 50 dud shots for a good one than to miss something completely because you wanted to get that ‘National Geo’ shot. As our friend Marina once put it, we’re not photo artists, we’re species identifiers. Which is why the more mobile and quick you are at getting in and shooting like crazy, the more the odds will favour your count.

If you get to know a frequently visited locale you also develop a real ’backyard advantage’. That is, you develop a sense of noticing new visitors by tiny differences, whether visual, behavioural, between new and old friends. Trust your gut on those signals. They almost always pay off.

Finally, as you mouse-click slog through those hundreds of shots from your field trip, keep that focus-for-the-new sense on and you may even spot more surprises in your shot that you missed entirely.

Oh happy days!


Or, what common species people aren’t observing! I was very surprised to get the first American Beech in Greenville NC, because they really aren’t rare here – they can be seen all along the greenways and especially the riverbank, in plain sight.


Sounds good! I went on a nature walk with @michaelpirrello last year and found nearly 10 iNat lifers (on trails I frequent!), including the northernmost observation of this beetle


I went birding for the first time in my life on Monday, since I was in the mood for making observations but felt like I have observed all the accesible plant species already.


I would get zero work done if I didn’t consciously stop myself from iNatting on the job! :joy:


I try to make observations every time i go out of at least one grass, one gall, one leafminer, and one insect. I try to remember to record eome birdsong, also, but often forget.

When I am in a new place, I map the iNat onservations for the current month in that location, and use the Missions feature to see what is there.

Taking a single mushroom foraging day with an expert has probably tripled the number of fungi I find.

I always meet new invertebrates when I am planting or weeding.

And get a hand lens!

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Wow! Interesting!

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Sometimes I think that iNat will turn out to be an incredibly rich source of data documenting range changes with climate change (I am not implying that climate change affected your beetle’s range). If I document liverworts in a part of Massachusetts that I know tends to have species of all sorts at the southern edge of their ranges, will those liverworts still be there in a century, even if there’s no direct habitat destruction by humans?


You could try rearing invertebrates from samples of habitat. For example, put a bracket fungus in a jar and see what insects hatch out. Take a handful of sediment from a dried-up pond and put it in a tank of water. For iNaturalist purposes your record would be from the place and date where you collected the sample, so you would need to keep the material secure from later colonisation, such as preventing insects getting into the jar to breed on the fungus or laying eggs in the tank of water.

There have been several discussions of what life stage you would give the observation so I won’t reignite them here.

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A favorite quote from John Burroughs, “To learn something new, take the same path you took yesterday.”
Just cultivating attentiveness in your daily routine, you will see new things daily.
I’ve seen over 1900 species on my acre, almost 800 lepidoptera, most at the porch lights.


My 2000+ observations are within walking distance of home, and I don’t range far due to aging and disability. Here’s my best advice: sit and watch. Looking and seeing become more focused the more I stop thinking.
Favorite quote is from Marcel Proust:

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.


Not a huge fan of Disney Corp’s depiction of the natural world, but I’ll borrow a line from one of their biggest hits (and also one of their most ridiculous depictions) and simply say, “Look harder.”