Adding a new species that is not "officially" named yet

I want to create a new species. The Tortricid moth expert I am working with refers to it as described in the “Cho manuscript” but not given a name yet. It’s been that way for many years and noone seems to know when a taxonomist will ever name it. I have suggested we give it a placeholder name that is obvious, and then when and if it’s ever named better they are easy to transfer over as a group and will get them out of “needs ID”. I have had many of them dissected and we are barcoding as well to establish the BOLD Bin for them.
This is an example of them. Genus Pseudexentera from Caddo Parish, LA, USA on February 20, 2023 at 07:48 PM by Royal Tyler · iNaturalist

I want to call them the Pseudexentera manuscript species LA1 (mothvet’s suggestion). Can someone please help me do this correctly and message me privately how it was done so I could repeat it later if I need to add another species?


Until a species is official, I think observation fields are the easiest way to track. See what @Megachile has done with “Gallformers Code”


It typically takes at least a decade, sometimes several, between first suspicions that something is a new species and it being officially named. During that time, the vocabulary used to refer to it is known as open nomenclature, but there are no absolute rules about how that should be applied.

Typically if the new species is very similar to an existing one, the abbreviation sp. aff. will be used. That’s short for species affinis, loosely meaning similar species. Thus, if it was suspected that the Ghanaian population of African bush elephants is in fact a new species, they may be referred to as Loxodonta sp. aff. africana while research is carried out to make certain.

Another abbreviation that is used in the same kind of way is cf., short for confer, and indicating uncertainty. Loxodonta cf. africana would refer to an animal that may or may not be Loxodonta africana.

One thing to avoid is using sp. nov. (species nova, new species) as this is not used to indicate a candidate new species, but rather reserved for the that time the species is being formally named.

Sometimes when a new species seems quite certain but more data still needs to be gathered before a taxonomist can formalise it, authors of a paper will assign a label, often based on the locality, something like Loxodonta ‘Mole National Park sp. A’.

If there is not an accepted label for the new species you are working with, then you could always establish one for your own use. As long as you explain clearly in the description of your observations, with any appropriate references, that seems to me a fine approach. You could say “the candidate new species dealt with on page x of xxx paper, hereafter referred to as Pseudexentera ‘ms. sp. LA1’.”

But as others have said, for the taxonomic ID, I would just ID it to the genus level and then use the description, comments and/or observation fields for your temporary species label.


While there are people who have added undescribed species to our taxonomy, this is strongly discouraged. You can use observation fields or traditional projects to mark observations for later. Observation descriptions and tags, along with your comments, are also searchable.


Here’s an example of an unnamed species that was brought into the inat taxonomy:
This grasshopper was historically treated as part of Trimerotropis gracilis but grasshopper people generally agree that it’s an unnamed species. So now on inat there are records of it under the name Trimerotropis species-a and other records under the name T. gracilis. I can relate to the desire to identify something as finely as possible, or to want to have the maps reflect the best available information, but the result is kind of sloppy and also not consistent with the references that inat uses for the taxonomy of this particular group. When I posted this unnamed species myself I felt conflicted but posted under “species-a.” Now I feel like that the entry should probably not exist. Assigning place-holder names seems like there’s potential for it to be capricious or personal without grounding in a peer-reviewed taxonomic reference.


I quite agree. Estimates vary about how many species are left still to be named but the consensus seems to be that we have so far only named 10–25% of what’s out there. In other words, adding a handful of ‘species A’ here and there on iNat is barely scratching the surface (and if somehow we even could create such taxonomies for the millions of tentative and unknown species before their official time, think what a godawful mess would ensue!) The tidiest system by far is to classify strictly according to official taxonomy, and just add clarifying footnotes/comments/tags/whatever to any probable soon-to-be new species.


You can also add them to this project:



It’s hard enough to get even described species into iNat when they’re not in GBIF or ITIS.


By the logic of this “species-a.” I could be tempted to add some placeholders for about 250 un-described harvestmen species in central america, many of them with quite easily identifiable photos here on iNat but indeed no ‘grounding in a peer-reviewed taxonomic reference.’ Note: I’m not saying i will, quite the opposite, what i’m saying is it’s not just a couple of isolated cases like “species-a.” or the moth in question - in some taxa it can be a vast minefield of MANY ‘un-described’ , ‘suspected un-described’, “i think it’s un-described but my mate doesn’t” etc!

→ DanielAustin., oops. YES. Quite agree also!

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It is not allowed to create taxons on iNaturalist for undescribed species. You have to wait until the species is properly named and described, and yes, this often takes years or decades. In the meantime you can assign placeholder names via observation fields.


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