Finding Species from the Top Down

A 'top down' approach to wildlife identification. Start by choosing from six basic groups of animals and plants and then work your way down to a list of possible species.

This is the primary species finder facility. It uses a 'top down' structure to try and guide you to the species you are looking for. By choosing one on the options available at the top level it will then provide a series of further options to choose from and then a further set of options before you are then provided with a selection of species to consider. I feel this most useful if you have an idea of what type of animal or plant you have seen but do not know where to start in identifying it.

For example, perhaps you have seen a dragonfly that you want to identify. From the primary list you select invertebrates as dragonflies, as insects, fall within this category. Then you choose odonata from the next level being the scientific order dragonflies come under and then choose dragonflies from the two options (the other being damselflies which are in the same order) and you will then see the range of dragonflies I have seen in Dorset from where you can try and make a decision on what you have seen.

The top down tool is my simplified 'field guide' to species, I think it works well on mobile phones so you can actually use it in the field (provided you have a signal of course!).


Click/tap your selection to move to the next level down:


Quadrapeds are animals with an internal skeleton and four feet. Basically mammals and herptiles.


Avifauna are animals with an internal skeleton and two legs because the two other legs have adapted to become wings. These are, of course, birds.


Invertibrates have an exo-skeleton or no skeleton at all. These are insects and various species of arthropod.

Flowering Plants

Flowering plants are those that reproduce sexually by producing flowers with both male and female parts. These include trees and grasses.

Non-flowering Plants

Non-flowering plants which include ferns, mosses and lichen reproduce asexually by dispersing readily fertilised spores.


Fungi are not actually plants but a distinct life form or kingdom. They are not, clearly, animals so I have included them under plants.


At the top level you have six options to choose from, three for animals and three for 'plants':

  • Quadrupeds which are four footed animals, basically mammals and reptiles
  • Avifauna which is the fancy name for birds!
  • Invertebrates which are animals without an internal skeleton,  mainly insects but includes spiders, molluscs and arthropods
  • Flowering plants which include flowers, bushes, shrubs and trees as well as grasses, rushes and reeds
  • Non-flowering plants such as ferns. mosses and lichens (although lichens are plants!)
  • Fungi which are not plants but a separate kingdom altogether 

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