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Web address zipcodezoo.com
Commercial? No
Type of site
Registration Optional
Created by David Stang
Jim Hetland
Launched September 26, 2004 (2004-09-26)
Alexa rank
11px 483,146 (April 2015)[1]
Current status Active

ZipcodeZoo is a free, online encyclopedia intended to document all living species and infraspecies known to science. It is compiled from existing databases. It offers one page for each living species, supplementing text with video, sound, and images where available. ZipcodeZoo.com was launched in 2004, four years before the Encyclopedia of Life was launched. Like Animal Diversity Web, ZipcodeZoo is an online database that collects the natural history, classification, species characteristics, conservation biology, and distribution information on thousands of species and infraspecies. It includes over 1.2 million photographs, 52,000 videos, 223,000 sound clips, and a 3.9 million maps describing 4.7 million species and infraspecies.

ZipcodeZoo draws on the Catalogue of Life for its basic species list, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility for its maps, Flickr for many of its photos, YouTube for videos, the Taxonomicon for taxonomic information, and Xeno-canto for some of its sound recordings.

All the pages are published under one of the Creative Commons licenses.


Our goal is to be a useful field guide for amateur and professional naturalists, providing assistance in species identification. Specifically, we strive for comprehensiveness, currency, great illustrations, and responsiveness.

  • comprehensiveness.
  • currency. An encyclopedia must contain current information to be useful.
    • Information on any species is constantly expanding, and sometimes changing. We use Wikipedia as one primary source of our information; to keep current, we mirror the English version monthly, and republish pages as Wikipedia's content changes.
    • Scientific names change. When a user searches for any of 945,000+ synonyms, they will be automatically redirected to the preferred name.
  • copious illustrations. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a million pictures must be worth much more. We've mined Flickr for photos, Youtube for videos, and Xeno-Canto for sound recordings, all to assure that a user understands what a species looks and sounds like.
  • Use of geolocation. Species identification is a matter of probability. We do not want to conclude we have seen X if X is extinct, or only found in Antarctica.
  • Finders. You can use geolocation information (captured automatically by HTML5 and most smart devices) to help you sort through what you've seen using our various finders at Lookup Life.
  • maps. We've included maps from GBIF for all species. Maps allow panning, zooming, changing the map style, and scrolling through time to see how an animal population has changed.

For Backyard Naturalists

Since its beginning, ZZ has had an emphasis on biogeography. Often, to be useful, a field guide must have a sense of where you are and what might be found there.

  • Proximity information defines probability of detection, reducing the clutter. For every professional naturalist who has made a positive identification of some species, there are 10,000 amateurs wondering what they have just seen. There are many books to assist in the task of identification, but most cover species of a wide geographic range -- "Birds of America" -- even though most species occur in smaller geographic ranges. If you are trying to identify something you have just seen, the grand book of everything is too much. Too much information can be cumbersome. For identification of something in your back yard, a good field guide would be localized to your back yard.
  • Probability information eliminates silly guesses. There are many species that look the same, and can be distinguished only by genetic analysis or by knowing where they were found. If your Field Guide contains many finches or salamanders that could not possibly be found in your back yard, it increases your chance of a misidentification. Too much information can sometimes mislead. When species that are not found locally are eliminated, the naturalist is more likely to make a correct identification.

For Armchair Naturalists

ZZ also intends to supplement the diminished outdoor experiences of modern society. Adults everywhere seem to be less able to make time to hike and camp and explore. Kids have less time for soccer or the playground, and are increasingly being told that wandering in the woods is dangerous. Besides, in many areas the nearby woods is now a shopping center. We don't want ZZ to be a substitute for getting outdoors, but if amateur naturalists are already indoors and at a computer, we want to be useful.


Lookup.Life Ships!

New! June 10, 2015. ZipcodeZoo today announced that it has made a free search app available for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.

Lookup.Life™ provides a powerful search tool "front end" for field identification of species, using your location and clues about what you've seen. Once you've tentatively identified a plant or animal, you'll have access to more natural history information than you can find in any other source, including photos, videos, audio recordings, and interactive maps. Learn more here.

Lookup.Life includes tools to:

  • Find a plant using appearance (habit, bloom period, etc.), leaf morphology (shape, venation, margin), growth factors (hardiness zones, sunlight, etc.), and various special qualities (deer-resistant, smog-tolerant, etc.)
  • Find a bird or butterfly you've seen using info about its appearance as well as its likelihood of being found where you are.
  • List plants or animals found near you, in order of probability, and click to learn more about any species and infraspecies.
  • Learn bird songs and calls. You may select a bird of interest by scientific name or by English / French / German / Italian / Spanish common name. View or hide distribution maps, photos, and information on color, diet, and reproduction. Then play from a list of calls and songs. You may play two or more recordings at once, a trick which will hasten your learning of this bird's sound.
  • Learn the sounds of local birds. To do this, we examine our database of 249 million field observations, and determine how many are found near you. We then sort that list, and provide sounds and sonograms on the top birds in your area, drawing on our database of sounds and sonograms for most birds.
  • Track what you've seen and heard with LifeList. Your information is stored in the cloud, so you can access it from any device. Once you have the name for the plant or animal of interest, you'll be able to learn such things as common names in various languages, clues to identification, behavior, habitat, ecology, distribution, taxonomy, and conservation status. Many species descriptions include photos, videos, and audio recordings.

Download for Android here. Download for Windows Phone here. Download for iPhone,iPad, and iPod Touch here. Or use your desktop browser here.

ZipcodeZoo.com to provide free species research.

April 23, 2015. As the world's largest encyclopedia of plants and animals[2], ZipcodeZoo.com is now seeking to become the most useful.

ZipcodeZoo today announced that it will offer free research support for journalists. Reporters, writers, and editors who are developing stories on any species of plant or animal may simply contact us, we'll do the species research, and post an expanded page for the plant or animal here.

For animals, we will likely be able to provide information about its physical description, behavior, diet, reproduction, geographic distribution, conservation status, and more. See our description of the American Robin for an example. For plants, we'll provide information about physical description, ecology, factors affecting growth (sunlight, pH, moisture, etc.), reproduction, geographic distribution, conservation status, and more. See our description of the Multiflora Rose for an example. In all cases, we'll try to track down photos, videos, and audio recordings.


ZipcodeZoo.com went live in September, 2004. In this early version of the site, graphics were amateurish, and content was incomplete and sometimes inaccurate. Version 2 came in 2008, and showed a much improved look and feel. In version 2, several finders emerged, including Bird Finder, Plant Finder, and Butterfly Finder. These finders all could use geolocation to produce a list of candidate species that matched the search criteria.

Version 3 of ZipcodeZoo is now in development, providing a complete rework of all pages. The site is run by Mediawiki and MySQL in Apache2 and Ubuntu on a System 76 Jackal server, with a 2.10 GHz CPU, 64 Gb memory, and 8 TB RAID storage. Database queries needed by some Finder pages are done with .ASP pages on a separate site.


  • Foreshadowing EOL's traitbank, ZZ's developers built tables of bird colors and other info, plant info, and butterfly info. These enumerations were used internally in the Finder search process, as well as in page generation. Find these finders here, at our companion site Lookup.Life.
  • We've added information on all known extant species and infraspecies.
  • We've added many photos, and are striving to have 30 photos or more for every species. Multiple photos make it easier to see differences between individuals of different age, sex, season, condition, and activity. Individuals of a species may differ in look from each other; these differences may be important in natural interactions, and absolutely need to be seen if the naturalist is to identify an observation correctly. Whereas the high cost of producing photos for books limits traditional texts to one or two photos per species, the Internet makes possible this unlimited use of photos.
  • We've been gathering field observations -- 249,201,562 so far -- and mapping them with the help of GBIF, to help you see exactly where a plant or animal has been reported. Every species page, and every taxon page, contains a live, interactive map.
  • Finding just the right species in all of this can be like finding a needle in a haystack. PlantFinder's database currently includes 2,636,218 attributes for 266,490 of the 1,423,693 plants on this site. BirdFinder uses location and 102,204 attributes for 4,753 birds.
  • LifeList provides an efficient way of adding to your LifeList.
  • Wikipedia is one of our primary sources. We are now configured to mirror the entire Wikipedia site every month, and to update our pages with revised content as it becomes available.
  • Two database servers now support Lookup.Life. Each of our finders first determines the responsiveness of these two servers, and chooses the fastest for your query.

Recent Progress

  • April 4: Created and ran code to identify missing templates, and import them from various sources (en.Wikipedia etc.)
  • April 1: Began monthly mirror of en.Wikipedia.org. This will facilitate more efficient updates of our content.
  • March 28: Completed import of current conservation status from IUCN.
  • March 12, 2015: ZipcodeZoo 3.0 goes live.

Current Status

All Pages6,151,620
   Article Pages4,914,491
   Template Pages2,904
   Taxon Pages[4]495,030
Pages Yesterday[9]14,484
Pages Awaiting[10]2,495,591

Coming Soon

We are working on LookupLife™, an app for portable devices that provides an intelligent front-end to ZipcodeZoo's information. LookupLife will help users identify plants and animals they have found using geospatial probabilities (what critters are most likely found at this location) and attributes (color, flight pattern, leaf shape, drought tolerance, etc.)

And soon we will return to our big project: AudiOh!™, a smart phone application that can capture a bird song or other animal sound, match it with a vast database of sounds, and offer a judgment on what animal made the sound.

Known Problems

  • Need to move to short urls, replacing /index.php? in the address with something like /w/
  • Add a "subscribe" menu option to make opt-in to the newsletter easier.
  • Finish import of Observations
  • Maps: determine how to sense if a map will have no points before adding it to a page.
  • Adapt code of FlickrSuckr to harvest directly from Flickr to MediaWiki
  • Import additional sounds from Xeno-Canto.


  1. "ZipcodeZoo Site Info". Alexa Internet. Retrieved 2015-4-3.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  2. ZipcodeZoo.com contains information about more species and infraspecies than Wikipedia, WikiSpecies, and EOL combined.
  3. and infraspecies
  4. pages describing taxa, such as a genus or a family.
  5. synonyms which, when entered, redirect to the Accepted name.
  6. Common names which might refer to one or more Accepted Scientific/Botanical name, and which, when entered, take the user to a disambiguation page.
  7. images which could appear on one or more species description pages. Does not include counts of images from Wikimedia Commons.
  8. .MP3 audio recordings.
  9. Pages published yesterday.
  10. Species pages awaiting (re)publication.