Changing common names - common flesh fly

Sorry to bring this up again, but I find many of the common English names used in iNat to be confusing and frustrating.

Please consider Sarcophaga carnaria (“Common Flesh Fly”):

I’m not sure if it is actually “common” in Europe, but it doesn’t occur in North America. How the heck does this English name help anybody? I am seeing an increase in USA observers submitting observations as this species, presumably either because of the AI/CV or because they know it’s in this family and “common” sounds like a safe pick.

What are my options as a curator? Can I flag this? Can I change the name to “Common European Flesh Fly” or something more meaningful? Or am I stuck with the status quo?



By the way, this whole family and genus often requires a genitalia dissection to confirm a species ID, so probably very few flies in this genus should be identified to species anyway, but I would defer to the European dipterists about that…


If that is the name that is in use in the areas where it is found (and it is certainly the name I knew it by when living in Europe), then in my mind it should not be changed.

Given that there are only 30 records of the species, it does not meet the criteria to be in the computer vision, so they are not coming from there.

As a curator no one can stop you from changing it, however the guidelines on adding common names are clear, that you should not be inventing names. Only those in documented use elsewhere should be used.


This English name help those who invented that name over the centuries, guess you can add another name for NA territory so people won’t be confused, though 30 obs is not a big deal.
Adding European to everything is not the best thing, we already miss many “Common” species and have “European” instead.


A “common name” is just that, a name that’s commonly used. They vary from place to place, and per language, even for the same species, but that’s normal and, despite that, they’re often well established and sometimes change less often than the Linnaean binomial does.

The goal of iNat is to get the average person out contributing to biodiversity knowledge and to get them involved and interested in an of themselves. Most of those people will only know the common name of the species they’re familiar with. As the goal is to be inclusionary rather than exclusionary, I come down firmly on the side of retaining existing and established common names, despite the confusion they sometimes engender.


I have to disagree here. I completely understand the use of common names for most flowering plants, all birds and mammals and other taxa that are often encountered and identified by lots of naturalists. And to clarify, my first choice in this case would be to simply delete the common name on iNat and not change it.

I’m not sure the commenters here are grasping the reality of this particular situation. There are hundreds of species of Sarcophaga and, to most observers, they look extremely similar in the field. I can’t claim to know the ID details or relative frequencies in Europe, but I suspect that S. carnaria is just one of many members of this genus that could be “commonly” encountered anywhere (there are “35-40” species in the UK alone). The others just don’t happen to have a common name. There simply is no utility in having this particular one labeled “common” and not the others. And unlike birds, there are going to be a vanishingly small number of people who think of “Common Flesh Fly” as S. carnaria specifically.

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And BTW, this is not just a theoretical problem. I go through invert observations in the western USA often and I am encountering S. carnaria as a suggested ID at least daily, which I am then correcting or commenting on. If this is not an AI thing, then it’s clear it must be the common name that’s causing folks to suggest S. carnaria.


Sorry, but to my mind it is inappropiate for an American curator to delete a common name clearly used in Europe because they feel it is causing problems for American observations. It would be equally inappropriate were a European curator to do the reverse. This is a global site.

Is it appropriate for a European curator to remove ‘Yellowhammer’ as a name (putting aside that someone for some reason changed that to ‘American Yellowhammer’ which should not be valid since it is not used) from Northern Flicker because Europeans might confuse it with Emberiza citrinella?.


I don’t think you are really understanding the difference between insect IDs and their English names and vertebrate common names, @cmcheatle , as your yellowhammer example illustrates. You are comparing apples to oranges here. Any reasonable birder can actually identify both of those birds (or at least get in the right ballpark and distinguish them) from photos. This is not the case with Sarcophaga.

A better hypothetical would be if there were 500 species of Calidris sp. sandpipers distributed worldwide and they all looked basically identical - one essentially needed to either capture the bird to ID it or at least get incredibly good photos of the spread wing, tarsi, etc. to even have a chance of identifying it. You then call one of those 500 birds “Common Sandpiper” and don’t give any of the others common English names. Would that name be useful and worth keeping in a global image repository?


You mean like this :

This site does not cater only to ‘reasonable’ birders or advanced naturalists etc.

Or like this : where roughly a third of the genus and a larger percent of the family lack common names.

Another example of a species which is constantly getting misidentified. Only this case the reverse, it is a North American name and species constantly getting id’ed outside of North America. Would you be supportive and accepting of a European or Asian curator deleting that name ?

Whether 1 species or all the species have a common name is not relevant, what the standard on the site for inclusion is if it is in use.This name clearly meets that standard.


Unfortunately the only solution with situations like this is to persistently correct all the observations. People use the computer vision suggestions and common names as hints but they will also check other observations to check if they look similar or if the species has been observed nearby. If there are no other observations of the species, or if all the observations have comments saying the species is impossible to identify (which as far as I know is true for Sarcophagids in general), then they might be less likely to identify their own observations as that. Apparently BugGuide is messed up with this family as well which doesn’t help.

If the problem gets too big, you could add it here.


Were you using that common name for that particular species, or just anything which looked like that? Is everyone else doing the same thing? If it’s a common name for a group of species, then it would make sense to move the common name up to the genus or family level and leave the species unnamed. I think that would solve most of the issues mentioned.


This species. It is even named as such on the NBN Atlas, Wikipedia among many other places. Were different species confused for one another - certainly, but the specific name was for this specific species. The group were called flesh flies.

EDIT - just to further detail this specific species has a common name in multiple European languages. For example in Danish it is Kødflue, which means meat fly (which is arguably a better name), in several other languages it is called some variant of grey flesh fly. So English is far from alone in assigning a name to just this species.

No it’s not a name for group of species, well, in the genus not only this species has a common name and others are not less confusing, take Grey Flesh Fly for example, but removing it because someone can’t check the name they’re adding?
For many complicated fly genuses there’s a species called Common, because it is, not because it’s easy to id. (that’s not about your comment, just answer in general)


Here are some common names that should be changed: Hydnum umbilicatum - Depressed Hedgehog. It is true that the cap is described as “depressed,” but a much better common name would be the Bellybutton Hedgehog. Another name than needs changing is for the genus Astraeus. Its current common name is Barometer Earthstars. None of the Astraeus species that I know respond to changes in air pressure. They are all hygroscopic, responding to changes in moisture.

I appreciate the discussion, even if we disagree. :)

I want to clarify that this is NOT an American versus European thing at all - if all species of Sarcophaga were only found in the US, I would still want to get rid of this common name (but I won’t).

There are of course codified rules for nomenclatural stabiity in scientific names (which change regularly anyway), but I am not aware of rules for stability in common names. I don’t see the need to endlessly propagate misleading or hopelessly vague common names for the sake of stability. The scientific literature would certainly NOT be affected by changes in the common name at iNat (or anywhere else) and I seriously doubt anyone actually interested in this family would be confused at all - they just use the scientific names anyway.

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As someone who has actively added quite a few common names to iNaturalist, I feel like I may have decent insight here.

While I agree that this policy should and generally is maintained, I am not sure how strict it is suppose to be. I have seen this rule broken sparingly, including by site staff (an example with a certain species of pill louse comes to mind). But these were limited situations where a species lacked any established common name whereas its congeners all did, or a Taxon Split was committed on a highly recognizable species originally known under a single, well-known name (e.g. “Hercules Beetle”, “Raccoon Dog”, “Sea Pork”, “Common Cuttlefish”, or “Jack-o’-lantern Mushroom”) and to give none of the output taxa names would lead to a lot of mis-identification and confusion.

But these were not situations where a species with a legitimate preexisting common name like “Common Flesh Fly” for Sarcophaga carnaria had their names deleted or modified just because it made curatorial duties more difficult. There is a similar policy in place that addresses a situation like this.

Please don’t add information to a name in addition to the name itself, e.g. “grumblefoots (this genus is monotypic, just ID to species!).”

To redub this species’ default name as “Common European Flesh Fly” or remove it entirely is a modification made just for clarification and goes against this policy.

I completely agree. Names should not be removed or modified just to make identifications easier. It is not our place to police what other people call organisms.

Almost every observation initially attributed to the physically distinctive and nocturnal Octopus briareus is incorrect because the user saw it while they were visiting a Caribbean reef and this animal is called the “Caribbean Reef Octopus”. A potential soluton would be to re-dub it the “Caribbean Night Octopus”, but it is not my place to do so.


I don’t really see what the problem is. We have scientific names to make exact distinctions between species.

You claim people pick the wrong species because the common name confuses them.
If that happens it means they are not aware of the significance of scientific names and that probably means they are unaware of all the possible species that could match their observation.
Also, people who pick an ID because “it is a safe bet” probably haven’t consulted a field guide or an appropriate key.
Hence the wrong ID is caused by a lack of knowledge or inexperience. The common name as such doesn’t have anything to do with it.


This links to comments raised elsewhere about limiting or flagging species level ID

I hope this is addressed at some point, for invertebrates at least, I agree that ideally species level ID where very difficult or not possible without microscopy should be flagged…and/or at least limited in CV suggestions. The CV suggestions seem often misleading to new users.

In any case I would also love to be reminded of the key details I need to capture for splitting certain invertebrates. I struggle to remember everything …and its frustrating to dig out sources each time.

Ophrys reminded me today of the key difference for S.stercoraria - look for black palps.
I think he might well have told me this before…

Why make it that he or others have to remind people over and over again of a piece of information like that… when it could be automated? If flagged once, could it not simply be flagged on all new Scathophaga as a notification? ( the notification itself could be crowdsourced / open for others to edit and source like a wiki) …

Use of geospatial data for CV also mentioned here as something being worked on which would help with your issue:-