What In the World Was That? Identifying Plants and Animals You May Not Know
By: Jennifer Cummings, M Ed. – Tips for Identifying Plants and Animals
Have you ever heard a strange bird call and your family wondered what you heard? Did you ever see a small brown creature run through your yard and you’re mystified as to what you saw? Or maybe you just want to know what kind of frog your six year old has put in the bathtub this afternoon. Whatever the reason, there are lots of times when you may want to know more about the animals and plants all around you. Use these tips to help you identify your mysterious flora and fauna quickly and easily!
Tip #1:Try to get a record of some kind.
If possible, try to get a picture of the animal or plant. Digital or video cameras work best, but even cell phone cameras will do in a pinch! Does your animal make a sound? Try to record what you hear to compare later. Kids love to use cameras, so they make great photographers!
Tip #2: Take five minutes and write down everything you remember about the plant of animal that you saw.
The longer you wait, the more distorted your memories will be when you try to recall the information later. Make a quick sketch if you can. Have each person in the family make their own sketch or description first, then compare notes later. Be sure to write the date, time, and location on your sheet.
Tip #3: Try an online reference guide to help you identify your mystery item.
Do a search for the general description of the plant or animal, such as “plants of Maine’ or “mammals in Utah’. You will likely be directed to an online field guide that may have pictures, information, or audio clips. There are many free sites available, so keep looking if the first few want a fee. Kids love to search online, and many of them are better at it than adults, so it can be a family activity!
Tip #4: Ask an expert.
Local schools and colleges often have experts in the field of biology. If you can’t identify the plant or animal you found, it may be time to ask an expert. Call your local college, university, or extension service for advice. They may ask you to send a digital photograph, or you may get to go in person to discuss what you saw. Either way, make sure your kids are involved so they get to learn more about a new profession that they otherwise may not know about!
The great part about being outdoors is getting to learn more about the mysterious world we live in. Every now and then it’s exciting to find something new that we have never seen before. If you get the opportunity to be a super nature sleuth, make it a family activity so everyone can learn more about the world and the great plants and animals that live in it!
A note of caution- be sure that you never approach any animal that you don’t know. Frightened or cornered critters can become very defensive if they feel trapped. Even if you’re only taking a picture, they won’t know that. Also, be sure never to pick or touch plants that you don’t know. Always be safe and keep your distance. Leave plants and animals in their habitat where you found them. Remember, take only pictures, leave only footprints and the world will stay Positively Green.