Apps for Identification

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In recent years mobile phone apps have been developed that use artificial intelligence to identify a plant or animal from a photo. You can find these on the app store for your mobile phone. They sound like a brilliant aid for naturalists, but are they any good and which are the best for UK wildlife? 
Warning! While apps can provide a really helpful pointer to help with identification and are often correct, they often make mistakes so never accept the ID as without question! Always check key features to confirm that the proposed identification is correct.
None of these are recording apps - unless you submit a record after identification, your observation will not be recorded. The iRecord app used by NatureSpot is regularly updated and includes automated image recognition as an aid to species identification, so please make sure you are using the latest version. 

Merlin (birds only) - Recommended

Developed in the USA by Cornell Labs and linked to the popular eBird recording scheme, Merlin has become very popular amongst US birders. The recent launch of both a UK and a European bird pack has now made this app a really useful ID aid over here. Not only can it help identify a bird species from a photo, even more useful is its ability to recognise birds from their calls. You simply switch on 'sound ID' and it listens for birds and it lists all the species with recognisable calls. It even highlights each species as the call is heard, which is a great way of learning. The app is a free download, you then select and download a bird pack for your country/area (also free). You can search the bird species in its library and then view multiple images (males, females, juveniles, etc.) as well as have the option to listen to sound recordings.

Obsidentify - Recommended (but read the rest of this section)

Developed by the largest nature platform in the Netherlands and part of the Observation International Foundation. Though the app is designed to collect records for the Netherlands it works very well as a stand alone ID aid. It is available as a free download on your app store. It covers all types of wild plants, animals and fungi and can be surprisingly good at suggesting an ID for even small and unfashionable groups such as flies and bugs. It works well when the original photo is taken in the field with a camera and then use your mobile to take a photo of the computer screen displaying the image. The app needs to be able to see the key points for identification, and if these are not in the photo than it will be inaccurate. Obsidentify is often very accurate for groups that can reliably be identified on overall appearance, but it cannot reliably identify groups that require dissection or microscopic examination. However, it will still try to guess the ID! Take careful note of the percentage score given - if it is less than 95% certain, it is often wrong. 

Seek

Seek is the AI identification app developed for iNaturalist. Like Obsidentify, it can be used as a stand alone ID aid without having to submit records to iNaturalist. (Note - iNaturalist does not have a reliable verification system for the records it receives so is not recommended as a recording system.) Seek has one advantage over Obsidentify - if it is unsure of the ID, it stops at family or genus and does not try to guess the species. While this does not give you a full ID it is often very helpful as you can then look more closely in that group. Nothing prevents you using Obsidentify AND Seek on a photograph (or preferably, set of photos taken from different angles) to try to confirm an ID. 

Google Lens

You can use Google Lens to help identify anything in a photo you have taken on your mobile. It isn't specifically designed for wildlife so can be rather random in its suggestions! It is designed for shopping rather than wildlife and works well on dogs and manufactured objects but is poor on most groups. It often thinks it is in California rather than Leicestershire. The other apps above are much better, unless you're looking to buy a new pair of trainers. 

Specialist ID apps

There are lots of recording apps for specific groups - butterflies, flowers, fungi, moths, etc. - that have ID aids built in. The CEH website provides details of many of these.

Others?

If you would recommend any other ID app that we can add to this list then please let us know: info@naturespot.org.uk