New Pocket Guide Helps ID Commonly Confused Animals, Plants

Is that a snowy egret or a great egret? A palmetto bug or a cockroach? A live oak or a laurel oak?

Florida is home to a diverse array of animals, plants and insects, many of which may be difficult to tell apart.

The new “This or That” identification deck from the University of Florida can help you not only tell species apart but help conserve the state’s native and endangered ones, says Lara Milligan, one of its authors.

“This is a great field guide to help beginner naturalists know what they are seeing when they are out in nature,” said Milligan, a natural resources agent in Pinellas County with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension.

The idea for an ID deck came from working with volunteers in local parks and nature preserves, said James Stevenson, another one of the publication’s authors and a program assistant with UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County.

“Volunteers were trying to help visitors identify certain species, and they came to us when they were having trouble telling easily confused species apart,” Stevenson said.

“This or That” covers nearly 100 commonly misidentified animals, plants and insects. Side-by-side photos are paired with descriptions of each species’ distinguishing features.

“Once you know what to look for, it makes it much easier to tell the species apart,” Milligan said.

In addition to satisfying a natural curiosity about the world around us, the ID deck will help users identify invasive and endangered species, as well as venomous ones, Milligan said.

“The first step to dealing with an invasive species is being able to identify it, so this is a tool people can use to determine if they are seeing something that’s a problem,” Milligan said. “The same is true for threatened and endangered species, such as the American crocodile or Florida panther—when people report sightings, that helps wildlife managers conserve those species.”

The ID deck can also help users distinguish venomous species from their harmless look-alikes.

“Some might think that any snake you see near water is a water moccasin, but it could be a southern water snake, which isn’t venomous,” Stevenson said. “Of course, you never want to intentionally disturb a snake or any other wildlife, so it’s always best to observe at a safe distance—if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.”

A reference guide like “This or That” is also a resource for new Florida residents, Milligan said. “When people move to Florida, all the new plants and wildlife can be overwhelming. This guide will help newcomers get familiar with their new surroundings and appreciate our state’s natural areas.”

“This or That? A Beginner’s Guide to Commonly Misidentified Plants & Animals in Florida” is available through the UF/IFAS Extension bookstore at ifasbooks.com or call 352-392-1764.

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