Hey, all! As you may know, I teach several classes related to identifying various organisms in nature—plants, mushrooms, birds, and more. I focus on teaching everyday people identification skills and tools regardless of their educational background and experience. My students have ranged from biologists and botanists to mushroom hunters and other foragers, but the majority are people without a STEM background who are just learning about nature identification for the first time.
Because I’m a citizen-level naturalist myself, I stick to the most basic terminology and concepts needed for everyday, casual identification, and I teach using beginner-friendly resources like field guides, websites, and identification apps. While I may sometimes use (and define) some technical terms, I try to stick to plain English whenever possible. This makes my approach more accessible to the layperson, and lets them get started with identifying the living beings around them, while still giving them to tools to get solid identifications whenever reasonably possible. I am, of course, happy to suggest resources that help with more technical terminology or deeper dives into particular categories of life form for those interested, but otherwise I try to keep it simple for anyone with an internet connection to get more information.
Something I’ve wanted to do for a while is offer some concrete examples of how I might go about identifying a particular being to illustrate the methods and tools used. So I’m going post How To Identify… examples once or twice a month, with my usual articles on an assortment of natural history topics in between.
If there are any particular species you’d like to see me feature, or additional traits in the list below that you think would help you learn identification more easily, feel free to email me at rebeccathenaturalist(at)gmail(dot)com.
Here are the traits I’ll be looking at in each example:
Name (common and Latin/scientific)
Range and typical habitat(s)
Distinguishing physical characteristics (size, colors, overall shapes, detail shapes, etc.)
If an animal, common observable behaviors
If a fungus, any known mycorrhizal relationships
Other organisms it could be confused with and how to tell the difference
Anything else worth mentioning (Is it poisonous or venomous? Edible? Endangered? And so forth.)
Further reading, primarily websites as these may be more accessible to readers (as always, other resource recommendations like books can be recommended by request)