Common Name Being Deleted - Mardi Gras Sharpshooter

Alright, I’m going to chime in here after following this thread since it began.

  • Common names are typically (in at least the major taxonomic groups) vetted by the authoritative committee overseeing a certain taxonomic group (or the experts in the field). For example, there is a North American (AOU & ABA) and a South American bird committee (SACC) that approves both scientific and English names. The same is true for bird committees in other parts of the world, especially Europe, and there is an overall list of accepted avian names for the world (IOC). Birds are the easiest example to give, but butterflies and odonates work as well.
  • a field guide is a publication. If a common name is featured in a field guide then that is likely correct, particularly because field guides tend to follow precedent set by the committees or authorities I listed above (issues arise though when you have a field guide such as Peterson Field Guide to Moths that makes up common names so that every species in the guide has one, and in this case the field guide cannot be used as the source for a common name).
  • the academic community, or perhaps more appropriately the authorities of said taxonomic group, are DEFINITELY the arbiters of what a common name is. This has been firmly established above and elsewhere. There seems to be some confusion though on here about what a Common Name exactly is. Common Name = English Name or [insert language] Name. Common Name =/= Colloquial Name. This thread seems to have an issue with colloquial or made-up names not being the same thing as a Common Name. For example, Gulls are often referred to as Seagulls, a popular and commonly used name by the public, but not the common name. So yes, there is an authoritative/academic threshold for acceptance of proper Common Names.

Some of this disagreement is semantics. The committee that deals with “common names” for North American herpetofauna avoids this possible confusion by calling their list “standard English names” which they provide to try to achieve some uniformity in English language usage. They acknowledge that “common names” in use may be different. There is no assumption that their list will eliminate common name usage. And obviously the list does not conform with “common names” in other languages.

To me, the North American turtle, Sternotherus odoratus, is still a Stinkpot (a common name with a long history in the scientific literature), although the proposed standard English name was Common Musk Turtle until it became Eastern Musk Turtle. Even formal efforts at standardization are not always very consistent. But that does not keep me awake at night.


There are sometimes multiple common names for a species. That’s fine. The majority of species do not have that long history of common names and proposed common names, especially considering arthropods, of which many are recently discovered. I think you’re mixing up the difference between common names and colloquial names. Kyle’s three points help clarify this.

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Many of our established common names – and standard English [or whatever language] names --started out as colloquial names. Lots of ways a name can arise, including someone coining one to fill a vacancy in a checklist or a field guide. I see no problem with that.

As for the reference in an earlier post to authorities in any specialist group – there are no authorities, only experts. And the experts aren’t necessarily the best to coin a “common name” that will stick.


some words might have started out colloquially, but they weren’t instantly put into a modern dictionary. that takes many years of standard usage. iNat is not an authority that can take the responsibility of announcing a new common name. not sure what you mean by “there are no authorities.” there are plenty of authorities. and experts may not coin all of them, that’s fine, but they’re the ones who make them official. I can colloquially refer to hamburgers as “steamed hams,” but it’s still a hamburger until enough people start saying “steamed hams” that it ends up in the dictionary. and since hamburgers aren’t steamed, that probably wouldn’t occur, but occasionally misnomers become common names with enough usage as well. they still must be published to be official. I’d say think of iNat common names as more so a reference to official dictionaries than to the taxonomic equivalent of urban dictionary. ;)


I feel like some clarification is necessary about how iNaturalist - not how greater academic or public spheres - define and treat “common names”. Name guidelines are detailed in full here on the Curator Guide and how iNaturalist defines a “common name” is available on any organism’s taxon page, in the bottom-most sidebar under the “Taxonomy” tab right next to “Names”. Here is an example.

To briefly summarize, iNaturalist has curatorial guidelines about how common names should be integrated, and do not make any explicit distinction between a “colloquial name” vs. a “common name”.

The whole purpose behind common name integration is to help the iNaturalist user-base find and learn about organisms. At the species level, common names should be “unique” and “specific” (e.g. there is only one animal called the “Yellow-bellied Sapsucker”; no one gastropod is just called “Snail”). Additionally, and perhaps most relevant here, common names must be used "elsewhere". In other words, iNat users are discouraged from inventing common names solely for iNaturalist purposes. They must be established somewhere else. It defeats the purpose of why they are integrated in the first place, and ideally there should be a lot of overlap between the names users see on iNaturalist and the ones they see in physical field guides, etc.

These are not hard-and-fast rules, which is why I use the term “guidelines” instead of “policy”. Some have been intentionally broken in rare isolated cases, but they generally are followed.

The Curator Guide explicitly dissuades users from inventing common names solely for iNaturalist.

Beyond that, inventing a common name is often to the disservice of certain organisms. Nearly every vertebrate has a well-established common name (I can’t think of a single bird or mammal that lacks one). Many plants have common names. However, the majority of invertebrates do not and means of identifying them are often subtle. Some species can only be distinguished from closely related taxa based on the shape of their genitalia, dissection under microscopy, or genomic analysis. The vast majority of users will not know this or go to those lengths to identify their observation down to the species level. However, because a species was given a common name, users assume it was the one they photographed. This has led to generalizations and rampant mis-identification in the past, particularly with arthropods that can only be accurately identified by cryptic criteria (such as Trombidium holosericeum). Additionally, there are some species that are primarily known by their scientific name, so fabricating a common name just to have one seems really unnecessary in those cases.

What should be stressed to everyone is that the Curator Guide does not specify what constitutes as “elsewhere”, so I am inclined to believe that a common name does not need to be from an academic paper specifically. I believe field guides, encyclopedias, robust online name depositories, pet guides, news articles, and other aggregating sites are also trustworthy sources for common names. I have pulled common names from shell-collecting sites and curated internet forums dedicated to animal husbandry (e.g. aquarium fish, chameleons, tarantulas). I see no reason why I should not have. On occasion, I have contacted leading authors on papers specifically to ask them what common name they would recommend for a taxon they described and those names have been integrated too.

However, some distinct nuance is often necessary for arthropods. Many online articles and field guides sometimes give multiple insects the same common name based on the family they are a part of. For example, I have a North American field guide that lists multiple taxa as “Leaf-footed Bug”. These are not legitimate common names. The authors are applying recognizable words to an abstract Latin name. It works well for the guide, but to give multiple taxa on iNaturalist the name of “Leaf-footed Bug” would go against the guideline that the common name for a species should be “unique” (again, no one gastropod species is called a “Snail” on iNaturalist). Many arthropod species are subject to mis-identification due to the misapplication of common names.

iNaturalist does not provide any distinction between colloquial and “proper” common names. From the description they provide, I am inclined to think that they treat them the same.

Jonathan is referring to committees that regulate the common names used in publications about insects, spiders, etc. This includes published research and the majority of field guides. These committees exist to ensure mis-identification is mitigated (for some of the reasons I specify above).

However, you’re right. iNaturalist does not have any guideline that specifically states we “must” follow these same rules. Rather, because the Curator Guide does state that species should have “unique” common names and are used “elsewhere” - and the majority of published field guides, etc. usually are peer-reviewed by these same committees (e.g. the Entomological Society of America or the American Arachnological Society) - we indirectly follow a lot of the same values for arthropods.

Exceptions exist - there are a number of pretty well established and specific common names for certain species that are used “elsewhere” but are not supported by groups like the ESA or AAS, and those are comfortably integrated into iNaturalist. There is no reason why they shouldn’t be.

Stinkpot is a perfectly acceptable name for the turtle! It just is not treated as the default. That does not mean it is an inferior name. There is no iNaturalist guideline that suggests it is. Rather, the default name is the most globally applicable and appropriate name.


thank you @bobby23 for this comprehensive and very well articulated response, really appreciate it and appreciate you taking the time to write this. :-)


thank you @bobby23 for addressing all of these concerns! I second @hopperdude215’s comment :)


But the urban dictionary is also recording current actual usage.
I use it to find the meaning of new to me words, which I have come across somewhere on the internet.
They are not inventing as they go.


You can add many common names for the species (everyone can do this), one stays on the head of the page, but all will be searchable for people when uploading observations and on the whole website.


Actually, in my experience most of the academic community typically only use Latin names. They would prefer not to have common names at all. Many novices, and this includes a good portion of iNat users, find learning common names is easier. Also, they tend to think that people that speak in only Latin names are trying to be elitist.

Having a common name helps people learn new taxa. Having talked to people that were on the committee to standardize and create common names for Dragonflies and Damselflies (Odonata) knew this and it was a large reason for the that committee being formed.

So I see know reason why having a common name that isn’t used elsewhere is a problem and may actually be helpful for many people.


Common name that is made up will end appearing for many species, evennow common names lead to mistakes because they are used for different stuff, e.g. in south regions of Russia people call young gulls cormorants, if they go to iNat and use that name it will be a mistake, if you make names for hunderds of moths you need to do a serious work and without it you will fail and only confuse people.
I also think that those who use only latin are wrong, they usually only learn only species from group they study, sure, it could be beetles with thousands of spcies, but it’s not all existing species. But I don’t see how learning latin names is hard for ppl, they’re the same as common, repeat them and you’ll learn them.


I love a good common names discussion - I always learn something new.

I did want to refute and expand upon the first bullet. For plants, there is no centralized scientific treatment of common names. One of the authors of the Atlas of Vascular Plants of Arkansas told me he literally was making up common names on the spot for some of the Carex species because the decision was made editorially to include a common name for each taxa! For those not into plants, Carex are the most common plants in most areas and they all look the same to a non-botanist, so they typically never have a common name beyond “sedge” in use by the locals.

Next, common names of plants can vary over a very small geographic area. This spring season I learned that the common names for plants used in some of the more remote areas of the Ozarks differ markedly from what we use in the rest of the state, either in spelling, pronounciation, or both.


Those sort of regional common names, are part of oral history - and those are the ones we need to keep alive.


Well, I knew nothing before about Oncometopia alpha or its kin, but I can say that Mardi Gras Sharpshooter is stuck in my head, so regardless of where the common name came from, it worked in being memorable.


They are totally inventing as they go. In fact, huge swaths of Urban Dictionary is pure trolling.



I moved the tangential discussion about offensive terms in common names to its own topic.


We manage a web site where the program I wrote to build it requires a common name.
I set this rule as the web site is intended to help new comers to wildlife, who find common names more comfortable. This was easy in the early days; plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, etc.
We are now involved in a lot of invert identification, and as mentioned above, there aren’t many common names for inverts.
So I’m now involved in creating common names for inverts we find. It’s actually not easy to do it well.
I then decided to use the English translation of the binomial name.
Again not easy, but at least it gives credit & credence to the taxonomist who named the species in the first place. It’d be handy if iNat had a translation matrix to do this ;-)
As a generalist covering all local wildlife I also find it much easier to remember common names on the whole.
When I look at the id page sometimes I can’t even work out if a taxon someone has id’ed is a fungi or an invert. Again, common names help me separate them out.
When I’m familiar with the taxon, then I don’t need the common name and can ignore it.
Given it’s so easy to ignore, I don’t see a downside to having common names; so long as they are fair/reasonable. Ignoring the offensive side to it.
It is annoying when a common name is plain wrong and I can’t do anything about it. eg Salsola australis was “Russian Thistle” for the longest time. Seems to be fixed now. This was misleading as it was considered an introduced weed, but has been recognized as a native for some decades now. Still, we don’t want people pulling it up because of a miss-leading common name they found on iNat.


There are a lot of species named after places (in their common and/or scientific names) that are native beyond those places. I hope you are not suggesting that all of those names should be removed?