How to get ID help

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How to get ID help

Identifying species from other people’s photos can be fun, just as a test of one’s ID skills, so even a blurry mobile phone photo with the message “What’s this?” might get you an answer. But don’t count on it!

For best results, give the following information with your photo(s):

  • Where was the species seen?
  • When was the species seen?
  • Any other relevant information about the record: what habitat was it in, indoors or outdoors, how many did you see, etc.

This basic information really helps with identification, if for example the only other confusion species occurs only in Scotland and you photographed yours in Kent. It also means that your observation can become a biological record. The iSpot website is great at capturing all this information with submitted photos.

Why do you want to know what it is?

This is something which people rarely explain but from the identifier’s point of view it makes a massive difference. There is a huge demand for ID help online and nowhere near enough expertise available to satisfy demand. So identifiers have to prioritise, and top priorities are probably:

  • really keen, promising newcomers who’ve tried to identify something but got stuck and are looking for help;
  • total beginners, the younger the better, who’ve seen something cool and want to know what it is;
  • anyone who’s had a go at identifying something for themselves first but needs help or confirmation.

Bottom priorities are probably:

  • anyone who routinely just photographs species and posts them online to be identified, without any intention of learning to identify those species for themselves;
  • anyone who relies on online identification because they don’t want to collect specimens;
  • idly curious folk who are not and never will be naturalists (though you never know!);
  • students who are trying to get someone else to do their work for them;
  • consultants who need identification help and don’t want to pay for it;
  • anyone who seems to think there’s a pool of “experts” or “professionals” out there who are in some way obliged to help them and have nothing much better to do!

In case anyone detects a certain bitterness here, all these categories of people certainly exist, and more besides. Most identifiers just want to pass on their knowledge and experience to a new generation of naturalists, just as they themselves benefited from mentoring in their own early days.

Entirely agree

Entirely agree

Again, I totally agree. I

Again, I totally agree. I think a primary function of this group is to show people that it's not that hard to do it yourself, provide the tools and framework for people to do it themselves but most of all show how much fun it is! I think I actually get more of a buzz when I put a name to something new than when I find something new before identifying it.


Your criteria focus on the person requesting the ID.  I would suggest that it also depends on what is being identified.  If it's a rare species then it nees to be recorded.  I put in a lot of time on the NHM forum a couple of years ago and lost the will to live teling people that they had found harlequin ladybirds.  But then I was able to recognise the rare sawfly Xiphydria longicollis, which proved to be only around the sixth British record, which would otherwise have been lost..