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You'll need a basic understanding of the classification of living organisms and related terminology(coming soon) to better understand this article. A “taxon” is basically a taxonomic group of any rank such as a genus or species or family.  It can be defined as a group of one or more populations of organisms which are considered to be a unit by the science of taxonomy (the branch of science which deals with the classification and nomenclature of life). This article is meant to be a generalized guide to the methods used to identify taxa with links to other articles which deal with more specific methods used to identify those particular groups or taxa.


Using Field Guides, and Photographs from Inventory Lists -

This is perhaps the easiest method to identify species found in an area, but it can only be used if the appropriate resources are available. There are many books, catalogues and websites on the internet that have full lists (inventories) of the species of a taxon in a particular area or region. Some of these resources even have keys specific to that area that can be used to identify species found in that area. (Click here (coming soon) for links to some good free resources that will help with identification of your taxonomic group of interest.)
Of course there are so many areas in this world, where the species of most broad taxonomic groups have not all been recorded or even found (and new ones are being found everyday) so it's best to learn how to use the method above just in case you find something like a new species that's never been recorded before or in case you wish to carry out a study in an area where the species list or record for the group of interest is not easily available.


The Use of Morphological Characteristics and Professional Taxonomic Resources for Identification -

The most common method (and the one most accessible to the general public) is the use of external morphological characteristics of the taxa and identification keys that link particular morphological traits or variations to particular taxa. Each taxa that is reached through this method also has its own set of keys leading to more sub-taxa within it and so on until the species is identified.
Often internal morphological characteristics are also involved in the keys, but these are mostly at the level of families and orders and even in such cases external morphological characters are also used. Using internal morphological characteristics is not recommended as it usually involves sacrificing the individual as well as proficiency in vivisection and anatomy of the taxon. These were mostly developed and used for the purpose of developing the science of taxonomy rather than just identification. If there is a problem with the process of identification due to keys only using internal morphology without corresponding external morphology characters, the family and order can easily be found on the internet or in field guides based on external morphological similarities or by checking out pictures of genera from different families found in the area and seeing which ones more closely resembles the general appearance of your individual. This is because the external morphological differences are greater the higher up the taxon in question is (for example it is easier to differentiate between a toad and a frog than to differentiate between two toad species of the same genus.)

(Go here for more information on the external morphological characteristics used for Identification.)Taxonomic books also have detailed descriptions of all the morphological characteristics used in them.


The Use of DNA Sequences for Identification -

DNA sequences can be used to identify taxa, and specific sequences can be used to distinguish between different species within a group (and even individuals within a species), these are called species barcodes. Since this method is expensive and requires a great deal of training and requires a lot of equipment and a laboratory, it is not accessible to the layman, thus it is not going to be elaborated on further as it is beyond the scope of this website.



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 References -

Guide to the Global Taxonomy Initiative