Answered By: Priscilla Coulter
Last Updated: Jun 13, 2023     Views: 318

See tips below for choosing and researching a species for your organism profile assignment:

Choosing a species

Research is fun when you choose a topic that interests you - so pick a species that you really would like to learn more about.  The species information websites below are good places to "shop" for organisms of all kinds.

Do keep in mind that some species get more attention (and more publications) than others.  The tips below will help you find the most you can about any species, but you can expect to find more books and articles written about:

Finding common and scientific names

Before you start searching for books or articles, it's crucial that you verify that you're using the right species name for your organism.  You can use the species information websites below to double-check species names.  While you're at it, write down name of the family that your organism belongs to, as well as any common names for your species and its genus or family (there may be more than one common name for each!). 

Example: Echinacea

If I search for "echinacea" in the USDA PLANTS database, I find this:   The scientific names for this species (Echinacea purpurea) and its family (Asteraceae) are listed, along with an image and a range map that help me determine that this is, in fact, the flower that I want to research.  Then, if I click the "fact sheet" or "plant guide" links on that page, I can read about this plant and see a long list of alternate names like "purple coneflower" and "snakeroot".  I also find out that Asteraceae is the sunflower family. 

Finding books

Click here to see a basic book search in our library.

Books tend to be broad in nature, so you will probably not find an entire book devoted to a single species (unless it's a species of management interest, like endangered, threatened, invasive or pest species). 

But, remember that your species will share traits with other species that are closely related to it.  Members of the same genus, for instance, will share an much of their evolutionary history, and will often have similar anatomy (both internal and external).

So, start your search at the species level. If you don't find what you need, search for the larger taxonomic groups (i.e. genus, family, order) to which your species belongs.  At each taxonomic level, try both scientific name and the common name(s).  


  • Species name: Papilio glaucus (tiger swallowtail butterfly)
  • Genus name: Papilio (swallowtail butterlies)
  • Family name: Papilionidae (butterflies)
  • Order name: Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths)

Once you have found a book that covers your organism's genus or family or order, search inside it for any mention of the species you're researching. 

Another good place to find broad information (like evolutionary history or shared traits) about a group of animals is a general zoology book. Likewise, for plants, a general botany or horticulture text is a good place to look for broad overviews.

Also consider looking for field guides by geographic region -- these are likely to include brief species accounts with basic life history information. For example, if you're looking for a species of bird that's found in Virginia, try searching for: birds AND Virginia or birds AND eastern United States

Finding articles

Click here to see a basic article search in our library.

Articles are usually written on narrower topics than books, so it's much easier to find articles written about individual species.   You'll find the most relevant article databases on the biology subject page.

  • Use keywords that will target the kinds of information that you need (Papilionidae AND foraging, Papilio AND morphology).

  • Put the species name in quotation marks to find it exactly.  You can still combine it with other keywords:  "Papilio glaucus" AND behavior

  • Keep in mind that many scholarly articles will be focused on a very specific aspect of the organism, and may not give a lot of detail about its general evolution, life history or anatomy.  But you'll typically find at least a little background information in the introduction and/or literature review (see Anatomy of an Article, if you're not sure where to find those sections).

  • Watch for citations as you read and check the article's references (the last few pages) for other good sources.  You can track those sources down in our library (articles or books).

  • To find more general articles, search for broader taxonomic groups, as you did for books.

Finding websites

The websites below are librarian-approved sources of life history information, nature photos, video and more.  Click here for tips on finding more authoritative websites.

GENERAL:  Each of the links in the first list are broad in scope (they include information about a wide range of species), making them a good place to start.  Click one, then search for your individual species.   Narrower sites, specific to certain taxa, are listed further down.









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