IDnature guides; Identification Guides
IDnature guides

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Updated: 15 July, 2007

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Select a guide from above, specify some characters using the boxes in the form that appears, and then click "identify." After results appear on the left, click "simplify," and repeat clicking boxes, "identify," & "simplify" until you complete your identification.

First time users should select a guide and then click on the Help link that appears at the top right for details on how to use.

About IDnature guides

IDnature guides are run by 20q identification software developed by The Polistes Corporation. This software presents text, line drawings, and photographs in Web forms to help you identify things. It should work on all computers running modern browsers such as Firefox, Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Netscape, and Safari. It was first used by specialists to identify tropical wasps and beetles. We are now building guides for widespead use at the 4th grade level and above. Ultimately, we hope that super-friendly guides to species will be available for all living things.


In the larger context of building an on-line encyclopedia of life, our partners are now developing and testing over 300 identification guides and checklists. These include the Missouri Botanical Garden and other herbaria that are helping to develop plant guides; investigators at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Universidad de Panama who are working on Panama's flora and fauna; colleagues associated with the USGS Biological Resources Division and the USDA Bee Laboratory contributing bee guides, and experts at a network of institutions developing guides to ants for 20 regions around the world. Taxonomists associated with BioNET International's SAFRINET and ASEANET have started guides to agricultural pests, invasive species, and other groups of organisms in Southern Africa and Malaysia.


With support committed from the USGS National Biological Information Infrastructure and Biological Resources Division, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the US Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, and other sources, we will continue building IDnature guides. In particular we intend to add more species and improve the quality of the ant, bird, caterpillar, fish, frog, mammal, mosquito, mushroom, salamander, shell, and spider guides as soon as time and resources permit. For plans on establishing an international network of technology centers to build guides to the world's flora and fauna, please see The Polistes Foundation's prospectus.

UGCA252731 -- Occipital_carina
Visual Characters

Whenever possible we intend to present characters and their states visually. The thumb-nail image on the left, for example, shows a wasp with an occipital carina. Individuals who wish to obtain more information about this character, specimen, or image can click on the image.

How it works

20q presents you with identification characters and states in the form of images and text. After comparing alternate character states with the specimen being identified, users submit information to our Web server using html forms. The server then searches its database of character-states based on the information submitted. It narrows down the taxa and character-states that remain to be considered and presents recommendations of what to look at next to the user. This interaction is iterative. If all goes well, it ends when the user identifies the specimen. Such interactive keys are not dichotomous and are not linear. They allow users to examine characters with multiple states and and specify characters in any order, skipping those that they can't answer for whatever reason.

The concept -- a game

20q is modelled after the games "20 Questions" and "Animal." In these games one player thinks of a thing, usually an animal, and then the other players ask questions and try to name the thing. The winner is the player who first correctly names the thing. In the case of 20 Questions, a limit of 20 questions is imposed, after which the player who is answering the questions wins, tells the thing, and has another turn. Ultimately, we hope that our Web site will play 20 Questions with you, both for fun and to help you identify and learn about animals, plants, insects, rocks, and wonderful things that are yet to be discovered. We hope that through this process you will add information to our database on your observations and knowledge of things that you can identify.

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