How do I identify an unknown specimen?
The ALA receives many requests for help to identify animals, plants and other organisms, often from a photo. As much as we would like to help answer your requests for identification, we are unable to meet the demand for this assistance. However, there are many services and resources you can access to help identify what you have seen or found. In addition, the ALA provides identification keys to assist in this task.
- Learn more about:
Sources of identification information for plants and animals
Atlas of Living Australia
As a first step, if you know the type of organism, looking at the species images in the ALA might help; sometimes an organism is common and easy to identify from photos. For example, if you know a little bit about the species, you could look at images of all the members of that same Family or Genus and try to find it there.
Species suggestion tool
The Report a sighting page of the ALA has a species selection tool.
This provides a list of suggested species known to occur at that location. It shows a number of images and you can choose from those options.
Bowerbird provides the opportunity to share your own sightings with images, videos or audio files and get help identifying unknown Australian species. You can create and join groups to engage with like-minded naturalists. All of the validated sightings from BowerBird are uploaded to the ALA on a regular basis.
Flickr’s Encyclopedia of Life website has thousands of photos of Australian animals, plants and other organisms. For animals see http://www.flickr.com/groups/australiananimals/
Project Noah’s website has thousands of photos of animals, plants and other organisms from across the world, not only Australia.
The Pests and Diseases Image Library offers high quality, colour diagnostic images and information on pests and diseases.
Sources of identification information for animals
Most state museums have an identification service for animals that you can either visit in person or email your photo to. Museum websites often feature online field guides with colour photos that may help identify your find.
College Street, Sydney, NSW
Australian Museum’s Search and Discover features a staffed information desk to answer questions and help you explore the museum’s various areas of science. There are computers with free internet access and reference materials. Australian Museum’s online identification resources and field guides include:
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
Conacher St, Fannie Bay, Darwin, NT
Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory experts can help you identify many animals.
Corner of Grey and Melbourne Streets, South Bank, South Brisbane, QLD
Queensland Museum’s Discovery Centre can help you identify many animals. Queensland Museum staff are on hand to welcome your questions and encourage discovery. Queensland Museum’s online identification resources and field guides include:
Perth Cultural Centre, James Street, Perth, WA
Western Australian Museum experts can help you identify many animals. Western Australian Museum’s online identification resources include:
Nicholson Street, Carlton Gardens, VIC
Museum Victoria’s Discovery Centre can help you identify many animals and features computers with free internet access and reference materials. Museum Victoria’s online identification resources and field guides include:
Museum Victoria has developed a set of field guide apps for every state and territory in Australia. Available for both Apple and Android devices, the app combines detailed animal descriptions with stunning imagery and sounds to provide a valuable reference that can be used in urban, bush and coastal environments.
Your local council may be able to assist in identification of wildlife in urban areas. They should also have suggestions on ways to deal with protected animals if they are a pest in or around your home.
Birds in Backyards Birds Finder
The Bird Finder allows you to search, browse or find information about individual Australian birds.
What Bug Is That?
What Bug Is That? provides identification keys and information for more than 600 insect families of Australia.
Sources of identification information for plants
Most state and territory herbaria offer plant identification services. Clicking on the links below will show the identification services available in your state.
The Australian National Botanic Gardens
The Australian National Botanic Gardens has a huge collection of photo galleries and identification keys and guides for Australian plants.
Weeds in Australia Identification Tool
A simple identification tool for the invasive plant species that are on a national weed list or are legislated against in a state or territory of Australia.
The Flora of Australia Online
The Flora of Australia Online lists many Australian plants with text based character keys to describe each species. It is quite scientific.
Identification information for fungi
Fungi of Australia
Fungi of Australia’s website introduces you to the basics of fungi such as the mushrooms, puffballs, stinkhorns, polypores, truffles and more. The associated Fungimap project has an online field guide to assist in identification.
If you have had success with identifying unknown specimens using other methods, let us know and we can add it to the list.