In this site are there any guideline about questions? Or any instructions about how to capture some important features of the organism (plant/animal/fungus/whatever)? How much should be the photograph's clarity? etc.

NB: I'm talking about this post from Earth Science, however that is about rock identification, not biology.


1 Answer 1


For those want to identify a specimen, yet could not find out a guideline.

There are a lots of interesting questions on identify X. But that often have a deficit of proper information.

However I have tried to made one sample, using common sense.

In General:

  1. Try to photograph describe useful characteristics, such as possible good fingerprints.

Though it depends quite upon guess, it is different sort of patterns, as a crude example, phyllotaxy (leaf-arrangement) in plants, Legs in insects, Gills in mushrooms, etc.

Need-not to know or use any descriptive-terminologies or codes before asking. Could write in plain language. .

    1. Text mention the size, at least approximate size.
    1. If available, try to focus the reproductive structures (specially when it is plant)
    1. If available, provide image of the whole organism and special parts (for say vegetative and reproductive).
    1. If available/ possible, provide clear-photos. Clear photos does NOT necessarily big photos (many kb or many pixels). It is possible to take clear photos within smaller file size.

Here are some tips for it.

a. use fast shutter speeds or speediest modes (such as sports mode)

b. If possible/ available /applicable, could try a tripod or stand.

c. If possible/ applicable, take photos on daylight.

d. Flash can interfere animal lifestyles, and sometimes officially forbidden. However when and where it is applicable (for say mushroom gills, tree barks etc.) could use that, with proper darkness or brightness settings in camera.

e. Sometimes compression or resize destroy lots of details. There is a trick to get better details in smaller file size. open the image on screen, adjust the display-size, and screenshot it with a screenshot tool. (To achieve that file size with direct compression or resize often blurs the image and kills many detail).

f. If the organism of interest is not clearly distinguishable from background or something else, you could use arrow mark or such.

    1. Mention the locality and season.
    1. If possible, could give some image of dissected view (without harm the nature, such as one sample from a troop of mushrooms in your garden) .

for plants

Plants are easiest to observe, since they don't fly-away.

For them:

    1. Try to capture photographs of whole-plant, the reproductive part (inflorescence and flowers/ cones/ sorus/ capsules etc), and some of the notable vegetative parts such as branching, phyllotaxy (leaf arrangement), leaf veins etc. You need not to use descriptive-codes to ask the question (that is task for answerer), just include them in photograph. Keep it simple.

If the plant is not in flowering-condition, could wait for flowering if possible.

Try to avoid only a bunch of flower or only a short-portion of vegetative-body when you've scope to look at other-parts.

Best example I've ever seen here (SE), probably is this (hyperlink):

What is the name of this plant? .

    1. If possible, dissect few flowers. For a very basic idea, I hope, this, this , this could give a very basic idea about what to look for. You could give sections of fruit (including TS), that could give an idea of number of carpels.
    1. If the plant is in a very young stage, if possible, let it grow.
    1. If it is a seed or a cone or any-such material, if possible you could try to find the tree/climber etc it fallen from. Beside asking, You could try germinate the seed also.

(Germination could take a long time in cases. Once I planted some Bauhinia seeds whose seedlings were came out approx 2 years later they were put in soil! so don't lose hope.)

    1. For twig-samples those shrink/rotten with time; in cases when you fail to photograph it readily, could press and dry it. You need not to paste it any herbarium-sheets; just press it so that important features remain observable.

You could keep it inside a fold of newspaper or magazine.

For a small, single specimen the task is very easy, but for more large, fleshy or multiple specimen the task become more difficult. During the starting period, paper change at certain interval, requires. The frequency depends on many factors. For a very small specimen (say about 5 cm long herb), paper-change at 2 to 3 hour interval for 1 days, and then daily once paper change for 2 to 3 days or hardly an week, is usually more than enough (or sometimes no paper change may required at all). For larger, fleshier specimens or in humid weather, much higher rate of paper change is required, even up to 1/2-hour interval on starting-day and then 1 or 2 or 3 hour interval for an week or more may required. Do not use iron but could use hair-drier for non-professional work.

For Animals

It is most challenging and luck-factor works a lot. Because animals change their place, an often in high-speed. Even a quite hazy shot is often an enough lucky shot. such as this and this.

But what you could

    1. Appropriate settings in camera.

a. Try use sports-mode or any-such mode that can take successive photographs.

b. Use faster shutter-speed

c. Take several-photographs and select clearest-few, and those-few focusing special features structures.

d. Flashlight is forbidden officially in certain places and it could irritate various animals including mammals and wasps etc. However for bugs, moths, worms etc entered into home, could be photographed using flashlight, those usually doesn't attack in flash.

    1. Observe attentively about those-feature you missed in photographs/ not possible to include on photograph.

** Macro- fungus:**

Fungus identification is undoubtedly difficult. It requires lots of experience and practice, too. Moreover it is practically impossible and dangerous to conclude from about certain strain of fungus is edible or not - just from eye-gaze. Because very slight difference in taxonomic position under same genus, could have huge difference in biochemical compounds.

However just for knowing-purpose, upto genus or species rank, keen observation on detailed structures help a lot.

    1. What to focus in the photograph:

*a: Habit in nature : on which substrate it has grown on? Single or in a troop? how much distant the fruit-bodies are? etc.

*b: Detailed structure: Focus on as much as possible extreme details. Cap, stipe, volva, cap-edge etc everything. If possible to bring one at home, must include a zoom-image of gills/ pores. Do some LS of cap and stipe and TS of stipe. Note is there any hollow-chamber or not. Notice colour of inner flesh. Photograph whatever seems important.

Wash hand carefully after watch. Best if plastic-gloves used while work. Stop direct touch if any irritation or allergy etc take place.

    1. What to mention in text- details, specially those are not captured in photograph. Such as it was slimy or papery or hard-like-wood or leathery etc. If there any special smell, you could mention it. If any color-change, luminescence etc seen, mention that.
    1. Place and time (season) quite a must to mention when it is fungus, and the time of day when the fruit-bodies flourish, is specific for many species.

Microscopic specimens

There is almost no-way to proceed a good distance from a macroscopic photo. However often there stays a way to guess from a spectrum, such as this-one. Information about affected organism/ substrate help in guess. Detailed observation on the microbial formation's property, including color, shape, size, smell (not recommended except strong enough to get from distance), texture (powdery/slimy/just color-changed patch on substrate, etc.) etc helps in such guess. (btw human disease / pathogens that can potentially affect human, is not appropriate for studying so casually).

If possible, a microscopic image at-least, is a must for microscopic specimen, as done for algae-identification by an SE user here.

When it is NOT better to post?

  1. Identification from childhood memory etc.

  2. Identification question without photograph.

  3. Photographs not showing effort to collect some important fingerprints. (Plant photo lacking reproductive structures, branching, phyllotaxy, leaf veins, close-up of tips, buds, axils etc. In case of mushrooms gills, stipe, base of stipe etc. In case of skulls or skeletons structural patterns including teeth, various folds etc)

  4. Only photograph with no or poor text-information.

  5. Identification of a small portion of body (teeth, feather, leaf etc) or a non-flourished body (a seed) etc. without any research-effort to find its source.

  6. Highly distorted specimen (dried leaf, half-rotten animal etc).

  7. Too unclear photograph when it was possible to give a clearer photographs.

  8. in case of sound clips; too short/ noisy/both sound clip when it was possible to provide better.

  9. In case of many organisms in a photo; or the target organism not well distinguishable from background; no marking in the photo about what to look for.

  10. Fungus edibility queries.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Can you make this Community Wiki so as to encourage others to contribute their edits/suggestions? I've started copy editing it (spelling, punctuation, phrasing, etc.), but I don't have time to finish at the moment. $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Aug 30, 2016 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ @MattDMo I've converted it into community wiki as per your request. Thanks, all additive edits are welcome. $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Aug 30, 2016 at 12:35
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not fluent in English grammar, so, there could be mistakes. At the same time, sometimes grammatical mistake make my sentences apparently aggressive but that is just mistake in sentence construction. Such as in one of my question I wrote "please identify this insect", that was edited to "please help identify this insect", the right sentence I was trying to write. In this-question I wrote "I can make a guideline", but assuming some possible unwanted "pretension", I converted it "however I've tried to make a sample". $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Aug 30, 2016 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ no problem, I completely understand. There are a lot of non-native English speakers on Stack Exchange, so I do my best to "translate" and correct when possible. I would expect others to do the same for me if I was posting on a Spanish Stack Exchange, for example. $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Aug 30, 2016 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ @MattDMo Here I posted $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Oct 22, 2016 at 4:20

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