Identifying Insects, Plants and Animals

My neighbor Chrissy has taught me more about the insects that live in my neighborhood than any adult possibly could have. Every couple of days there comes a short “Ding Dong” of our doorbell, followed by a couple of firm and authoritative raps on the door. “It’s Chrissy!” my family cries in unison. “She probably has another bug for you.”

Sure enough, she usually hands me a covered glass tumbler, a clear plastic bag, or, last week, a colander covered with a paper plate. “Do you know what this is?” she asks, pointing to something crawling inside, confident that I will recognize her prey.

Sometimes the unhappy insect in her container is familiar to me: a bumble bee, a fritillary butterfly or a millipede. Other times I’m not quite certain what it is. We have to go get my bug books or look on the Internet to get a final answer. If you or your children have curiosity about the natural world and its many inhabitants, it is relatively easy to identify them precisely.

BOOKS One of my favorite identification resources is the series of “Golden Guides”, which have now been updated to the Golden Field Guides. I still have the one I used for an insect collection in high school. Whether searching for butterflies, reptiles or hallucinogenic plants (really!), a Golden Guide starts you in the right direction.

On a recent plant rescue for the Georgia Native Plant Society, Shannon Pable leafed through her well-thumbed copy of the Peterson Field Guide to Ferns. She recommends the Tree Identification Book and its companion, the The Shrub Identification Book, written by George Symonds as particularly good for beginners. I find the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders to be invaluable when I need to identify an insect. It begins with the general body shape of the insect in question and leads one through ever-narrower refinements until you find what you’re looking for.

INTERNET All of the Audubon Society Field Guides are on-line if you don’t want to own a physical copy. I’m able to identify a lot of insects and I find fascinating links at www.insectclopedia.com. When I need to ID a lawn weed, I go to the University of Georgia weed website and if I can’t find it there I go to Weed Identification with Pictures.

The Georgia Natural History Museum maintains an excellent Georgia Wildlife website. If a snake was seen slithering behind your basement washing machine, you can determine there if it was a rat snake or a hognose snake.

My favorite Internet site of the last few weeks has been the University of Florida’s Featured Creatures site. Have you always wanted to see what a hairy maggot blow fly really looks like? (and haven’t you wanted to yell that at the driver who cuts you off on I-85?!) How about a picture of one of those flat headed, worm-like planaria you find under stones in autumn? And good news for you strong but silent types, there’s an insect just for you: the taciturn wood cricket. It’s all there at the Featured Creatures site!

If you are bothered by a bug, stymied by a snake or worried about a weed, management of the pest starts with a positive identification. I could say more about the subject…..but the doorbell just rang and I predict a pint-sized person is standing perplexed on the other side of it!

planaria

planaria

planaria

planaria

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