Photo Identification

As interest in digital photography grows, more people are taking images of wildlife and this offers a really useful way of both identifying and recording different species. Taking a photograph of a species observed is a very helpful memory-aid which can then be easily emailed or uploaded to a web site like NatureSpot for identification help. For more unusual species, the image then provides evidence to support the sighting. But just how reliable are photographs for identifying different species of wildlife?

Can A species Be Identified From a Photograph?

It must be stressed that it is not possible to identify every species from even the best photograph. Some are just so similar that they can only be distinguished by microscopic examination or by dissection. However most larger species can be identified from a photo without too much trouble and overall the majority of all species can be too. It must be recognised that species can change dramatically through the seasons and through their life stages so it may be necessary to get a photo of the right feature at the right time of year for identification to be reliable. There is also considerable variation in some species which throws up another challenge. NatureSpot is all about helping people to identify and record the wildlife around us and relies heavily on photographs for identification. We are therefore gradually introducing a Photo ID rating that indicates how easy or difficult it is to make an accurate identification from a photograph.

We use a traffic light rating as follows:

GREEN = the species is readily identifiable from a photo and is unlikely to be confused with anything else.
AMBER = the species can be identified from a photo but there are one or more similar species that it could be confused with. A good photo is needed showing the subject in sufficient detail to distinguish it from similar species.
RED = identification from a photo is not usually possible (detailed examination of the specimen is usually needed).

When species are so similar that we can’t confirm the identification, we display an image in a red box to indicate that the photo is representative of the species even though we can’t say for certain that it is that species.