everybody is different in terms of how they learn, but most people learn better when they can actually apply the knowledge in the real world. so i would tend to start by looking for opportunities where you can help someone achieve a particular goal. that could mean that you get involved in a local native plant propagation effort, or help with an invasive detection / removal effort, or help out at a nearby herbarium collection, or help with an animal tagging / tracking effort, or you could volunteer to help your local mosquito control department raise mosquitos, etc. that will get you connected with locals who know their stuff (and can teach you), and who are passionate about the subject.
Thats why I at least make sure to comment on what I want to be ID’ed, if it’s not obvious.
As much as I don’t like going too far the other way either… inat is more or less a crowdsourced field notebook. It’s not a peer reviewed scientific paper. The imperative isn’t for no one to ever make a mistake. Instead, with the photo and other data, mistakes are later found and fixed. If you don’t like dealing with this sort of messy data inat may not be your cup of tea. I think it’s fun when everyone is participating in good faith. Of course sometimes people leave the site and duress users can present a problem. But still… it is what it is and overall I think it’s pretty great.
I will probably disagree here. To start at the highest taxonomic level may work with many groups but will fail hopelessly in fungi (including lichens). If you have so morphologically different fungi like meadow mushroom (Agaricus campestre) and stump puffball (Lycoperdon pyriforme), where will you be, if you start at (let us say) family level? It isAgaricaceae for both. I think, the advise cannot be universal for all organism groups. For the beginner, however, I would say, do not hurry with identifications. Browse photos, read, get familiar with some organism group in your area (part of the species), check the mistakes and misidentifications that are made here, on inat, read carefully about the species characters and (if available) the information on the species with which they can be confused. But do not hurry! And be extremely cautious when using AI. For some groups (e.g., lichens) it practically does not work.
I understand your concern for quality, joe_fish, but it partly depends on whether you plan to follow up. If I make a guess I try to draw attention to it by tagging someone or making a comment. It usually gets some response pretty quickly and we may have a discussion about what it is and finally come to an agreement. That’s very satisfying because I get to learn and in the end the ID is the best it can be. I don’t just guess and abandon it.
I like the diversity of responses you are getting - that indicates a good question! Here’s an approach using iNat as a resource. Let’s say you want to learn to ID all the Hyla treefrogs in your area. Go to “explore” and search for all the Hyla in your state or county (assuming USA), then click on the “species” tab to see how many species have been reported, then unpack each of the species and look at the pictures for that species. You can filter the search to just observations that are Research Grade and that will help assure they are likely to be correctly identified. When you think you can ID a species, go to “Identify” and ask for the observations of that species in your state, not too far away and try to ID those.
Ideal, yes. Sometimes, iNaturalist can be used to skip that step. I find I often use iNat to narrow it down to family or genus and I use my guides to get it to species. That leaves your knowledge of the subject rather incomplete. On the other hand, in the case of moths in particular, it can be rather difficult to actually learn the families and genuses. So many of them. Convergent evolution, making organisms look the same even though they are distantly related complicates things.
I have another question, not sure if it would be related to this topic or if it deserves it’s own topic. But, I am a ‘collector’ at heart but I don’t actually want to hurt any of the animals (for my insect photos I’ve been trapping them in a jar with air holes and releasing them [I try to release them in the same/general area where I found them]).
For some reason, I am into moths and would like to know how many are possible to ‘observe’ in the state I live in. What would be the best way to record that data? An example would be 12/52, so that would mean I’ve seen 12 out of the 52 possible species (I know that there might be more moths added in the future) in Virginia (I just made that number up, just fyi).
Hopefully, that makes sense.
Ty for all of you guys that answered!
The answer is lots. I’m a fair ways north of you, but in Ontario, there are over 2,000 documented species just on iNat alone.
Possibly the best field guide for eastern North American moth has 600 pages.
I agree with that! Half my job is raising native plants in a nursery setting, and that has taught me tons. I see what they look like at different stages and under different conditions (more/less shade, more/less water, seasonal stress, etc) and so now when I see them in the wild, I’m not having doubts like “I think it’s x but then again it doesn’t look exactly like the image in the guide book.” So if any one has the time/space/interest, I highly recommend growing up your own “raised in captivity” plants as a method of getting familiar with them.
I hear it talked about so little that I’m almost afraid it’s a secret I shouldn’t be sharing, but the days of expensive peer-reviewed literature are over.
Just 4-5 years ago I would have to ask friends to send me copies for at least 1/3 of the papers I was looking for. This year I’ve read 100s of papers and haven’t had to ask a friend even once because 95% of what I was looking for had been uploaded to researchgate.net.
You could see the observations as something to collect. Both the total number and the number of unique species.
Its a bit abstract but I consider knowledge to be the main thing I collect.
But it should be known also that researchgate is not very open to the newbies who do not have research institution email address. One has to be invited by a member.
Virginia probably has at least 2500 moth species. North Carolina has over 2600, and I assume Virginia is comparable. Butterflies are a more manageable group to start with. There are 150 species of butterflies on iNat for Virginia (and probably a few more rare ones that aren’t on iNat). For moth identification, I like to start with the Peterson guide, but it’s only a small selection of the total species out there. Once I think I know what the species is, I then check the Moth Photographers Group website for similar species that aren’t in Peterson.
Since you’re not far from NC, a good resource is the NC Biodiversity Project https://nc-biodiversity.com/ The distribution maps may not help in VA but photos and habitat info will.
One other bit of advice that I haven’t seen in the thread yet… find an expert and see if you can spend some field time together. Bioblitz outings are a good time for novices and experts to meet. Contact your local parks or museums for events.
It is much depending which kingdom or lower rank the species belongs to. This is because if it is, for example, an insect or a mushroom the approach must be very different and possibly also the time to become skilled with such species.
Also rarity, size, availability of scientific literature, and presence close to where you live are factor influencing the time you need to become expert with a species.
Huh. I don’t even remember how I signed up. I certainly don’t have a research institution email address. But I believe you, someone must have invited me.
I agree with your advice there. When I was a child I would (spoken in a romantic, nostalgic voice)… I did have a bird field guide (Golden) and used to read it. I was able to pick up the general order of things, which is important for narrowing down observations. If I know where to go in the field guide to see Vultures, I don’t have to go through every page. Speeds things up.
Moths are a little different. I got my experience through work (a long time ago). My suggestion for @ [bookworm86] would be to get some sort of field guide and browse that for a while. Decide which group of moths you want to work with (stay away from Geometridae!!) and narrow it down to a small region. When I first began I was identifying moths all over the world, and it was not helpful. Once I switched to Noctuidae in E.Canada, I began to learn what was helpful. I use Moth Photographers Group (http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/), then follow it up with a visit to Bugguide (the link helpfully provided by MPG) or some other site that I know has a description (I find descriptions extremely useful). For learning the main features of moths (lines, spots, anatomy), use PNW moths - http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/about-moths/glossary/. The glossary applies to all moths, but unfortunately only moths found all the way out there are covered by their wonderful descriptions. Oh, by the way, Bugguide sites often contain “May be confused with”, which is very useful to know. If you need help with moths, contact me.
Oh, one more thing. It is possible to narrow the search on MPG to only one area (though some moths go everywhere). Use “Plate Series”, go to the plates (pictures) you want, and at the top you will see “View by Region”. Click on that, then check the area you wish to have displayed. It eliminates species found only in, say, California, simplifying the identification process somewhat. Keep in mind that some moths are extremely variable in appearances - http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=10801 - so what you see isn’t always what you get! That’s why I use at least two sources.