Ever encountered a weird sea creature that defies description? Caught a saltwater fish but don’t quite know what kind it is? Now there’s an easy way to identify whatever it is you’ve run across.

Launched this summer, the Identification Guide to Marine Organisms of Texas has been compiled from decades of data by TPWD Coastal Fisheries biologist Brenda Bowling and is a great resource for anglers, biologists, beach combers and others who want to know more.  The new online tool uses photos, detailed descriptions and other descriptors so that users can identify and learn more about the mystery creature they have found.

Hosted and supported by Texas A&M University Galveston, the site offers detailed photos and descriptions of fish, crab, shrimp, mollusks, marine vegetation, sea turtles, and other marine organisms.  Each species is represented by photographs, and brief habitat descriptions, distinguishing characteristics, differences from similar species, maximum sizes, and other pertinent information.

The designers took into account the varying identification skills of any given user and developed a query system – easier to use than technical taxonomic keys – that allows the user to narrow down a species based on general features, such as mouth type, tail shape, dorsal fins and other distinctive features. A glossary of technical terms used with drawings and photos of specific features and diagnostic characteristics of each group of organisms is presented to assist in identification.

The site offers all the tools necessary to allow anyone from the layman to the marine biologist the ability to identify just about any marine organism someone may find in Texas.  And for anglers, there is an easy-to-use length and weight calculator than can provide the average weight per a given length for more than 100 species of fish.

The site currently contains descriptions of 422 marine species and is considered a living document.  It will be updated as more species, better photos and new information are documented in the future.  Anyone who still cannot identify the sea creature they have encountered is encouraged to send clear photos to Brenda Bowling at txmarspecies@tpwd.state.tx.us.  To access the site go tohttp://txmarspecies.tamug.edu.

Image courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife

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