Why is your favorite group your favorite group?

As someone who has recently gotten invested in insects, I was wondering, especially to those who ID, what makes your group of taxa your favorite group? I’ll go first:

The summer going into my sophomore year of college amidst the pandemic, I worked in CT on Emerald Ash Borer. I hadn’t taken any major insect classes yet - just one that introduced me to the orders. The majority of my job entailed using Cerceris fumipennis (a native Buprestid predator) to determine density and spread of EAB across CT - Wasp Watchers. This entailed running around baseball fields catching the wasp with its prey while people stared at me and wondered why an 18/19 yr old was driving a state vehicle. When it was raining and couldn’t go out, my boss had me ID, label, and store Coleoptera: Cerambycidae. On one of my last days at CAES, I saw a red beetle fly across the field as I was heading back to the car - it was too large and flew too small to be a ladybeetle. My boss told me that it was a red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus), and I thought it was the cutest thing. Fast forward a year after taking taxonomy and anatomy, I started to actually become interested in entomology and decided to learn more. This led me to be active on iNat, ID Tetraopes and then deciding to try to learn 40,000+ Cerambycidae worldwide over the course of my life.

I’d love to hear everyone else’s stories!


For identifying, I’ve spent the most time with Penstemon plants. I got interested initially as a native plant gardener, with about 45 species in New Mexico. It’s the most speciose genus of flowering plants in North America and diverse in elevation, flower color, flower shape, pollinators, leaf shape, growth height, and soil preference. From 8 foot monsters on the Baja peninsula pollinated by large Bombus and Xylocopa to delicate, alpine mats pollinated by small bees and flies.

For observing, I was inspired by Olivia Messinger Carril and Joe Wilson’s ‘Bees in your backyard’ book during COVID to find and photograph as many of New Mexico’s 1100 native bees as possible. I’m about 10% there. Attracting and supporting all kinds of pollinators in my garden is also a goal.


When I was twelve I saw a coot with chicks on a river near my dacha field, I didn’t know what bird it was, so when next summer I was sent to a summer camp that was awful in many ways, but it had a library, I got brave enough to go there and took a small book about birds, there were a lot of new things to me, including the name of a coot. I rarely id birds because there’re ten people who will id it after you, so I mainly check old observations.
Mostly I id insects because there’re not enough iders for them, as any other group of life I always liked them, but I was focused on birds through most of my life, I didn’t think much could be ided from photos, in university we were said the same (though I liked collecting them on our practice), I wouldn’t imagine that right here I can photograph thousands of insect species and id them with photos only. I hate that I had that pure bird focus, but glad that I got rid of it.


I had once seen a oxyrhachis sp. when I were 9 (I am 10 now) and wrote clues about what I had seen on google(Insect with two horns protruding upwards and one down wards and one backwards). While I were looking at the photos, I stumbled across a mesmerising photo of pyrops candelaria. Now I am a fan of Fulgorinae and Hemisphaerius and am working on creating an ultimate guide on the genus which is better than C. Mallory’s. I also am a fan (and identifier) of fungi too. You can ask me if you want to know how I got interested in mushrooms (and identifying them)


"So that when they go extinct, we’ll have some records that they existed. "

I know that’s a depressing thing to say, and I’m sorry. But we work in Marine Conservation and there aren’t many bright spots. Our two biggest projects are elasmobranchs and corals.

Sharks and rays aren’t particularly protected here, but they’re a major bycatch species, so we monitor the fishmarkets. Standing in a pool of blood at 2am whilst some of the rarest fish on the planet get divided into “very expensive soup bits” and “petfood” is not everybody’s idea of a good time, so the data value makes it worthwhile.


Coral is so poorly studied that I feel like a toddler sorting wooden blocks by primary colours. And yet we are in a race against time to document the living organisms. We work in the centre of the coral triange on an animal that is threatened by sea-level rise, global warming and acidification. Not all of the species are going to make it to the end of the century. There is one expert ID’ing everything on iNat and even they are generally unable to get beyond Genus. Only about 25% makes it to research grade. Most species have less than 50 observations globally. So I love coral because it’s so damn hard to do that every ID is rewarding.



First year botany introduced me to fynbos. Now I see school classes at Kirstenbosch and the Aquarium - then the focus was more on imported oaks and pines that have recognised monetary value. Indigenous bush was wasteland for plantations or agriculture or more housing. On the slopes of Table Mountain is a proud memorial - if you seek his monument look around you (at the plantation). Now happily on a slope of restored fynbos!

Wonderful to see support for nature across our demographics compared to then. Weekly hikes on the mountain bring me something new each time. All the flowers support insects, spiders, lizards, birds. Then the coast on beach walks. Identifying local Unknowns (local including that country called Africa) opens my eyes to fresh slices of taxonomy. iNat has become my nature-based U3A.


My favourite group I ID here are spiders. I started very early in life being interested in nature, but that kind of excluded spiders for a long time (except salticid… they are just cute).

In 2008 I moved into my first home only inhabited by myself which was a cute little garden hut in the garden of my landlords. I moved in in August and by October I was terroized by 2 or 3 Eratigena females each night. Oh my, they were so disgusting, hairy, huuuuuuuuge and put me in a state of disgusted panic. I caught them and put them back in the garden, but each night I had some visiting me again. The winter put me a bit on ease, but in spring it was as bad as before (warm days… nice for spider activity, cold nights… spiders earching for a warm reatreat). I actually seriously thought about moving out as I could not stand it anymore… but as I loved my cute little home in all other regards so much, I decided to try something else first. I started to read up on those monsters. I wanted to find out their name and everything else I would be able to find out. And that kind of send me down a slippery slope… I started to realize how amazing spiders are in many aspects… amazing hunters, amazing survivalists, amazing moms… I realized I had a whole bunch of other spiders in my home, which I started to document with my crappy digicam and read up on afterwards.

One of the first spiders I started to kind of like while at the same time still being freaked out by them plopping from the ceiling onto my bed at night were Scotophaeus spiders… which I learned are not only extremely good at climbing on all kinds of surfaces but also very good at hunting those huuuuge Eratigenas. I remember the night when I was able to observe it the first time with my own eyes… walking sleepy into my bathroom, seeing a big dark splotch of something with waaaay to many legs, getting this shaky kind of panic attack where you feel the need of shaking legs and arms while making weird sounds of disgust… and then feeling this fascination creeping up and getting my digicam to document it. That was also the moment I realized that a camera is magical. I could suddently get much closer to those creepy crawlies when observing them through the lens. This might be the moment when I decided to get a DSLR, but it would take me 2 more years to have the money to do so. But until today my DSLR (still the one I got in 2012) is my biggest hobby.

Well, rest is history. I got sucked into the spiderworld from then on, ended up in the spider group of my university which kept me in town for much longer then anticipated, wrote two thesises for my studies on social spiders, had the best time of my life doing so and went for my research to South Africa and Namibia at a time when thought that would never be possible for me (which was one of my first long-distance trips at all actually), met my partner during that time, went with him abroad and now live with him in South America and love it… getting into spiders changed my life in all aspects and I sometimes wonder how my life would have gone, would I have not moved in that spider infested hut.


I was born in the UK. Ever since I was small I loved nature and I became particularly interested in mollusks. Shelled mollusks only at first, because of their beautiful and mysterious shells. Each summer my family would go to visit my mother’s mother in Bideford, North Devon for two weeks, and we would go to the coast at Westward Ho!, where I found quite a lot of different seashells on the big sandy beach and also some very pretty colorful land-snail shells in the dunes behind the sandy beach.

The shells were clean and easy to collect and store. My mother did not object to boxes of shells in my bedroom because they were not smelly or problematic in other ways, although eventually she started throwing away a box here and there hoping I would not notice.

I married my first husband when I was only 19, and my husband and I joined the Conchological Society of Britain and Northern Ireland. We became very active in the society’s mapping scheme for the non-marine Mollusca of the British isles, and I learned the non-marine fauna. We lived at the edge of the Fens in East Anglia, and the freshwater fauna there was impressively diverse.

My first husband got a one-year post-doc at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Southern California, and there I learned my first subtropical marine mollusk fauna.

Fast forward several decades, and a couple more marriages, and I ended up learning the Caribbean marine fauna quite well after many visits. And I live in New York City now. I am currently working on finishing my 61st paper.


Wow! Your story is inspiring - I wish I would be around when you’re, say, fifty years old and in the prime of your career, to see what you’ve accomplished. (I’m old, I’ll be dead by then, probably.) I wish you all the best!

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My favourite group(s) (now 2 after being split!) are two extremely obscure tribes of Andean amaryllids (Stenomessae and Clinantheae), which I encountered for the first time many, many years ago, and fell in love with since.

I was on a family trip crossing the Marañón valley in Peru and we were walking through a stretch of dense woodland when I spotted a “bouquet” of greenish-white flowers emerging from the leaflitter. My aunt had a camera and we took a few pics of the plant, which was unlike anything I had seen before. We left it there and moved on as it was getting late, but the memory of it stayed. In high school, one of my teachers was a biologist (ornithologist, but one of his teachers was a highly respected botanist). I showed him the photos and he was awestruck, recognizing the plant as an member of the Amaryllidaceae but he hadn’t seen the exact species before, which led me to the PBS and their excellent photos of Stenomesson chloranthum, which is the true name of the beauty I had seen in my childhood.

It’s highly unlikely I’ll see one again, since the place I found it has undergone mild development, but I still had the privilege of seeing another member of the genus in yet another unreported location: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/133285922


I studied Carabidae - Ground Beetles for many years; but at some point got bored as they are better known than other groups of beetles, after all, and there is a good number of active specialists.
So I bought a beating tray, and started looking for inspiration. You have NO idea how many insects sit unnoticed on a branch of a bush until you use a beating tray. This way, after discarding Elateridae - Click Beetles - they all look basically the same -, I stepped into Melyridae - Soft-winged Flower Beetles, a large group with lots of bizarre and colourful members. They live in South-exposed, sunny places, so offer the possibility of pleasant excursions in Mediterranean places.
The experts of Melyridae are mostly long time dead, the living ones can be counted on the fingers of two hands, so I can be helpful, and busy for the rest of my life.


Thank you! All beetle experts should be cherished.

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