Binomials in two cases of unresolved taxonomy

I have a question on iNat policy regarding two taxonomic cases. I didn’t see an answer in the lengthy Curator Guide.

In iNat’s taxonomy, what should the binomials be for these two animal species?:

  1. Species without a genus. A described species now classified in a particular family-group rank but unplaced to genus. The original genus and any subsequent one are now known to be incorrect, but the correct one isn’t known.

If the answer is to include the most recently used genus in the binomial until the correct genus is figured out by taxonomists, then what’s the best way to keep a future curator from seeing a species with a tribe parent and moving it to the same-named genus where it doesn’t actually belong?

  1. Species without a specific epithet. An undescribed species, known to be distinct from described congeners and even easily identifiable from photos, and whose genus is known, but whose specific epithet hasn’t been declared by any published description.

I’ve photographed an example of each case in the past month, and in one case, a new iNat taxon needs to be created for the species. But what would the full binomial be for an iNat taxon?


I can answer the 2nd one, although I will have to look to see if it is documented somewhere. iNat policy is to not load undescribed or provisional names into the taxonomy database. Any observations should be entered to the genus level, with a marker such as one of the ‘holding’ observation fields used to enter any information such as the provisional name, which can then be accessed if the species is published/accepted.

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There isn’t a policy on this unless it’s one of the taxa with an external authority, but it should stay in the unsatisfying limbo at the old name until formally renamed, no? Leave it named with the old genus and categorized under the old genus.


One example here that comes to mind is that Amphibian Species of the World, our external source for Amphibians has a handful of species like “Colostethus” ruthveni which they graft not to the genus Colostethus but to the subfamily Dendrobatinae. They indicate this with quotes around the genus.

iNat expects a binomial and doesn’t support quotes around the genus name. Currently iNat is handling by calling it Colostethus ruthveni but grafting it to Dendrobatinae.

My opinion though is that this adds more confusion that its worth and it would be cleaner/easier to clean/curate to enforce species binomials being a descendant of the generic part (eg Colostethus ruthveni descending from Colostethus). This would require deviating from Amphibian Species of the World, but that wouldn’t be a big deal

On species without a specific epithet:

Following @cmcheatle 's answer, I have a few how-to questions.

Which observation field should be used to indicate the provisional name? Is there already one that is commonly used regardless of users’ spoken language?

Can an observations search, or a search in the Identify tool, pick out the observations of the genus with a particular provisional name in a field, or only those lacking the field?

How would I get the provisional name to appear as a column in exported observation data? And in an exported taxon list? I’ll want to be able to easily distinguish between genus-rank IDs (species unknown) and IDs of the undescribed species.

If I were looking at the Taxonomy tab of a genus’ taxon page, is there any way to tell which species have been identified with a provisional name field, since they do not appear as child species in the taxonomic tree?


Which field to use - as with everything observation field related, there is no standardization (and the site has indicated they will not do any standardization). As a result there are many that have been created. A lot are named ‘Holding bin’ or some variety of that but there are others

  • yes you can search for records that have an observation field populated, or even those with a specific value in one. It takes a URL modification, but it can be done, as an example this search finds all records using the ‘Count’ observation field where the value entered is 1

  • observation fields can be exported using the export tool. The only trick is you personally have to have used it in a record (and I believe it be among the 10 most recent observation fields you have used) to see it when generating an export

  • regarding the taxonomy tab, i do not believe this is possible

A few sources I know prefer to use the “currently established” genus name until the new one is formerly described. For instance, “Maratus” scutulatus was treated as genus Maratus in GBIF, iNat and ALA even though the genus was known to be inaccurate. The research since came through and we now call it Hypoblemum scutulatum.

With plants at least, the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature considers a name correct if validly published, and leaves taxonomic concepts to the reader. Unless a new combination has been created which the external authority agrees with, then the last valid combination would be the one to choose.
As a taxonomist, I don’t really understand the concept of a species without a genus.

A species is ALWAYS described as a binomial, within a genus. If at a later point in time, a researcher finds evidence that the genus placement is incorrect, and they choose to validly publish a new combination in another genus, then that name is now available for use. If they don’t choose to create new combinations, then the genus under which the taxon was described is the only one validly published, unless later combinations have also been validly published. In that case, it is up to your particular taxonomic concept (in our case the external authority) as to which one you choose.

Edit: I’d be very surprised if the ICZN (for zoological nomenclature) is substantially different.

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Sigh… The learning opp that just keeps on giving!

I’m not a taxonomist, but I’m a bit confused. How can you have a species without a genus, when you require a genus to name the species?

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Some species are currently placed in the wrong genus (maybe even the wrong family), but this has not been formally resolved yet. One way to deal with this on iNat is to create a genus homonym with correct placement in family, etc.

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Short answer: you can’t. A valid species is always named as a member of a genus. As @mftasp correctly stated above, someone may later suggest that it ought to be placed in a different genus instead. That is the situation that “species without a genus” is referring to above. It isn’t really without a genus, someone has just decided that it’s in the wrong genus and needs to be moved. Moving it requires formal publication of a new “combination” under the other genus. Until that happens, the only valid name(s) available are the one(s) that had already previously been published.

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Yes, but the real problem is when using the current genus places it in the wrong family. In those cases, I suggest creation of a generic homonym in the correct family.

Sounds like most folks here are down with enforcing species having to have a genus with the generic part of their binomial as an ancestor (e.g. species Taricha torosa has genus Taricha as an ancestor). I also think thats a good plan. In case anyone wants to help curate, here’s the 240 species on iNat where thats currently not the case:

Thylacodes squamigerus :
Vespidae st1 :
Bithoracochaeta calopus :
Hylarana latouchii :
Heliofugus fairmairei :
Cerithideopsis californica :
Lobonyx aeneus :
Murgantia truncatulata :
Zonitis nigrotarsata :
Mylassa crassicollis :
Lasionota conjuncta :
Euthora cristata :
Arthrobrachus maestus :
Volegalea cochlidium :
Lottia insessa :
Lottia cona :
Vaccinium witches -broom phytoplasma :
Eleutherodactylus bilineatus :
Armadillo tuberculatus :
Hackberry island chlorosis virus :
Howarthia caelestis :
Haplogloia andersonii :
Cerithideopsilla cingulata :
Urnula padeniana :
Smilium spinosa :
Hylarana attigua :
Hylarana chitwanensis :
Hylarana persimilis :
Hylarana montivaga :
Hylarana margariana :
Hylarana celebensis :
Xenobalanus globicipitis :
Polyporites wardii :
Phaeotremella frondosa :
Muscidae st1 :
Euantha :
Spirotaenia condensata :
Neripteron violaceum :
Cellana testudinaria :
Quamoclit pennata :
Ganonema maculata :
Phalacridae st1 :
Muscidae st2 :
Epitolina dispar :
Orania fusulus :
Diphasium jussiaei :
Cowpea aphid-borne mosaic virus (cabmv) :
Artoadenus dius :
Trichia varia :
Prostherapis dunni :
Bufo scorteccii :
Litoria castanea :
Cochranella megista :
Cochranella balionota :
Cochranella xanthocheridia :
Cochranella riveroi :
Cochranella euhystrix :
Centrolene quindianum :
Centrolene petrophilum :
Dicrogonatus gardineri :
Hyla nicefori :
Eriplatymetra grotearia :
Eucaliga sanguinicollis :
Lamproderma atrosporum :
Arcyria incarnata :
Hirticlavula elegans :
Jaguajir rochae :
Plectostylus chilensis :
Morisonia incana :
Phytomyza aquilegivora :
Trochomodulus carchedonius :
Scrobiger splendidus :
Taphrosoma dohrni :
Fuscidea arcuatula :
Girasia crocea :
Centrolene robledoi :
Heterispa vinula :
Hylarana lateralis :
Trichia scabra :
Rhodolith non-geniculate coralline algae :
Agrilaxia decipiens :
Parathyasira equalis :
Artioposthia nichollsi :
Anaphalioides bellidioides x helichrysum lanceolatum :
Cyathea boivinii :
Botryocarpa prolifera :
Safida druceria :
Cyathea similis :
Excavata costata :
Crossata ventricosa :
Colostethus poecilonotus :
Thylacodes aotearoicus :
Thronistes rouxi :
Emesinae st1 :
Pseudocroniades machaon :
Ptilotus yapukaratja :
Cicindela nahuelbutae :
Colostethus ruthveni :
Phasianella solida :
Toxotoma jujuyi :
Thylacodes zelandicus :
Ypthima striata :
Macaria radiata :
Pachythrix hampsoni :
Scaphinotus cavicollis :
Lamproderma splendens :
Corylophidae st1 :
Maizania elatior :
Lamproderma ovoideum :
Santobius :
Ranunculus virescence phytoplasma :
Uropodina penicillata :
Litoria richardsi :
Zoellneria rosarum :
Cochranella duidaeana :
Centrolene azulae :
Hemitrichia minor :
Pseudotorrenticola rhynchota :
Hibiscus palmatifolius :
Cybalomia extorris :
Sulcia muelleri :
Sarcinochrysis marina :
Symploca hydnoides :
Notostigma :
Heterochaete andina :
Haplotrichum ramosissimus :
Heterochaete gelatinosa :
Hypterita helicoides :
Centrolene guanacarum :
Theloderma andersoni :
Unplaced leucoplecta :
Balcis :
Encyrtidae st1 :
Limnothrix :
Labrocarpon canariense :
Litoria jeudii :
Norrissia setchellii :
Litoria vagabunda :
Rachidiscus :
Milichiidae st1 :
Neothyris lenticularis :
Arachnognatha meterythra :
Orthocladiinae st1 :
Nitidulidae st1 :
Fusitriton retiolus :
Epitonium elenense :
Turritriton labiosus :
Cecidomyiidae st1 :
Aglenchus :
Monoplex lignarius :
Lispe nivalis :
Petrobunus :
Lacurbs :
Baculigerus :
Minuella :
Xanthyda anaxantha :
Wildemania amplissima :
Paktongius :
Litoria obtusirostris :
Litoria multicolor :
Cerithium zebrum :
Nesomedon :
Paridnea :
Sphaerotylus renoufi :
Joculator granatus :
Pseudocapillaria tomentosa :
Rhipilia tomentosa :
Sulfur-oxidizing symbionts :
Bufo hadramautinus :
Cycloporellus iodinus :
Grateloupia californica :
Lirobarleeia lirata :
Hylarana garoensis :
Pseudocellus chankin :
Lagochilus pellicosta :
Targaremini st1 :
Goniinae caffrea :
Goniinae excoriata :
Goniinae pretoriensis :
Erythrodermis traillii :
Paractinobalanus moronii :
Coelopidae st1 :
Hyla imitator :
Phyconomus marinus :
Grammatophora marina :
Monoplex vestitus :
Antrodiella faginea :
Antrodiella niemelaei :
Antrodiella ichnusana :
Antrodiella romellii :
Antrodiella citrinella :
Antrodiella parasitica :
Antrodiella leucoxantha :
Antrodiella pallasii :
Antrodiella onychoides :
Eomichla hallwachsae :
Japewiella dollypartoniana :
Pseudobryopsis oahuensis :
Helophilina taeniaticeps :
Allenius iviei :
Cosmarium granatum :
Chrysosphaerella longispina :
Cyathea melleri :
Leucostoma kunzei :
Chlamydocapsa planctonica :
Gamma proteobacterium endosymbiont rubrothoracicus :
Diodora digueti :
Microsporida inodosporus :
Rickiella edulis :
Wernoryctes werneri :
Cochranella ramirezi :
Centrolene acanthidiocephalum :
Litoria louisiadensis :
Gaudichaudia gaudichaudii :
Cyphosoma binexile :
Centrolene medemi :
Saotomea solida :
Orapa :
Streptosporangium :
Actinomycetales bacterium :
Cochranella geijskesi :
Nuclear polyhedrosis virus :
Sterile rhodolith coralline algae :
Curbia martiata :
Yuebeipotamon :
Eutrochatella acuminata :
Panicum barbipulvinatum :
Thularion semoni :
Haemaphysalis longicornis associated microorganism :
Encyrtidae st2 :
Chrysophyllum fenerivense :
Eurytomidae st1 :
Blochmannia endosymbiont of suffusus :
Psychodidae st1 :
Stauropus euryscia :
Suctoria :
Steironepion minus :
Hylephila venusta :
Heoda wagenknechti :

Disregard the st1, st2 tag names created by me. In Vespidae st1, the Vespidae is the family, not the genus. These tag names are known to iNat admin and have been debated ad nauseam already, resulting in recent changes to prevent creation of more tag names exactly like those, but the existing ones are entrenched in identification histories already, so cannot be deleted (thank goodness!)

Edit: PS: Some of your listed “species” are genera, so what you say makes no sense when applied to them.

Edit: I see that at least one of those genera is wrongly put in as a species. Not created by me, but I will fix these.

Edit: In one case (genus Rachidiscus), I did create the record. It was categorised as a species on the record, which I suppose I could have made the mistake, but here is the odd thing: both species records were in as subspecies and not created by me! Not sure what is going on there???

That is a much easier fix, since Family placement is not restricted by rules of nomenclature. We don’t need to create a homonym, we just need to move the genus and graft it to the preferred Family in iNaturalist, assuming that there is community agreement to do so. For some Families, it might require a specific taxon curator to make the change.

You misunderstand! I mean cases where the current generic placement is wrong and places the species in the wrong family, i.e. Aus bus belongs to family F, but genus Aus belongs to family G, but there is no better genus yet available for Aus bus.

Surely a species should have a subgenus as its direct ancestor when that is appropriate, even though the binomial for the species doesn’t show subgenus? The idea is surely to group species into convenient monophyletic groupings, and subgenus may be just that, particularly for hyperdiverse genera?

Edit: Also, Litoria jeudii needs editing, but is covered by a “taxon framework”, so I can’t edit it.

Thanks for the clarification. So yes, if I’m understanding correctly now, one would either have to wait until the new genus was available in the correct family before Aus bus could be moved to the correct family, or – if it was important to have it in the correct family immediately for some reason – temporarily graft Aus bus directly to that family taxon, and leave an open taxon flag on Aus bus explaining the situation, to try to prevent another curator from grafting it back to the genus Aus.

For my 2 cents, there would have to be an awfully compelling reason to choose that second option.

There’s a 3rd option (i.e. the one I actually suggested), which is to create a generic homonym in the correct family for the misplaced species.