Curator guidelines about made-up names

I probably said this before, but anyone concerned about common names for any particular group of organisms could help organize or spearhead a naming committee to standardize or add/revise names and then publish it, thereby making it available for use on iNat. The odonatists did a pretty good job of that for North American dragonflies and damselflies many years ago. Of course, odonates are getting almost as popular among amateur naturalists as birds which have had naming committees for decades. But it does require some critical mass of interest to make that happen.

The process is explained here:
https://www.pugetsound.edu/puget-sound-museum-natural-history/biodiversity-resources/insects/dragonflies/world-odonata-list/north-american-odonata

And a published checklist is here:
https://www.odonatacentral.org/public/media/uploads/files/NA_Odonata_Checklist_2024.pdf

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I deal mostly with plants, and some names are confusing and misleading. At least pick a standard source like BONAP and use names compatible with theirs.

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In my experience the BONAP database has a lot of (not very well) made-up names invented to populate that data field. Like any such database, I would not recommend wholesale or uncritical adoption.

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Common names are an important feature of any naturalist identification. They must be kept legitimate. Most common names were developed based on specific scientific characteristics of the species involved and are used to help identify the species.

There is a simple solution to common name application. Before entering anything as a common name in iNaturalist, simply Google it!!!.

If it shows up as used by a legitimate major organization, or in a specific published book by a legitimate author or other authority, use it!!! If not, do not use it. It is as simple as that.

There are a lot of silly common names used on iNaturalist, and if you Google them, they only show up in iNaturalist! If every other legitimate reference uses a different common name with actual historical and scientific precedent, iNaturalist should also use the legitimate common name. Using a made-up common name or some local derivative is actually misleading and worse than useless.

There are many terrible common names used for lichens.

Here are a few examples….

Parmotrema perlatum is called “Powdered Ruffle Lichen” in every legitimate text on lichens, yet on iNaturalist it is called “Black Stone Flower.” This name comes only from India and has no reference anywhere else. Calling a lichen any kind of flower is a serious scientific error.

Pseudevernia cladonia is called “Ghost Antler Lichen” in every legitimate text. This name helps separate it from Common Antler Lichen due to the lack of isidia on the surface of the lobes. On iNaturalist it is called “Light and Dark Lichen.” If you Google “Light and Dark Lichen” you get nothing relevant to Pseudevernia cladonia. The Canadian government uses Ghost Antler Lichen, the CNALH, the largest North American Consortium uses Ghost Antler Lichen, as well as every major organization, so should iNaturalist.

Pseudevernia consocians is on iNaturalist as “Common Antler Lichen” They got that one right… Pseudevernia cladonia should also be correctly called “Ghost Antler Lichen.”

Squamulea subsoluta is called “Dispersed Firedot Lichen” in every major text, on iNaturalist, it is called “Orange Atoms” ??? What use is this name?

Parmelia sulcata is known in all major texts “Hammered Shield Lichen,” iNaturalist just has “Shield Lichen” which pertains to dozens of lichens, not just Parmelia sulcata.

Cladonia macilenta bacilliaris is listed on iNaturalist as “Brown Pin Lichen” on iNat. It is a “bright red” capped lichen known as “Lipstick Lichen” or Lipstick Powderhorn”. It just is not brown!

Parmotrema arnoldii on iNaturalist is “Arnolds Parmotrema Lichen?” It is “Powdered Ruffle Lichen” in all major texts, indicating the powdered soredia along the edges.

Parmotrema austrosinense on iNaturalist is listed as Pretty Ruffle??? It is specifically called “Unwhiskered Ruffle lichen” in major texts. This common name is important since this species does not have cilia along the lobe edges as do all other Parmotrema. “Unwhiskered Ruffle Lichen” helps identify the species; “Pretty Ruffle” is just useless.

Umbilicaria muhlenbergii on iNaturalist is “Lesser Rock Tripe? It should be “Plated Rock Tripe“, found in all major texts, due to the plate-like features on the lower surface used in identification. “Lesser Rock Tripe” is a meaningless name.

Tuckermanopsis ciliaris is “trailrunner” on iNaturalist!?!?!. It is a useless name when Googled. It is Fringed Wrinkle Lichen in all major texts.

Pertusaria superiana is listed on iNaturalist as “Paul’s Super Lichen.” It was named by Dr. James C. Lendemer for Paul Super, Research Coordinator/Biologist at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park where the lichen was first discovered by Dr. Lendemer and Erin Tripp. It is not Paul’s lichen, it is Paul Super’s lichen and should be listed as "Paul Super’s Lichen, or better, “Super’s Wart Lichen”. Anything less is disrespectful to both Dr. Lendemer and Paul Super.

Physcia millegrana on iNaturalist is called “Rosette lichen.” There are numerous rosette lichens. It should be “Mealy Rosette Lichen,” as it is in every major text, based on the fine mealy soredia found along the lobe edges.

This is just a sampling of the poor common names on iNaturalist.

Googling a common name before applying it on iNaturalist will weed out these useless and confusing non-scientific made-up names and keep “useful common names” common rather than regional or esoteric.

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While I appreciate the detailed examples, messes like this are ultimately only fixed by working on the iNaturalist website. Posting here about issues with particular species will have no effect unless you’re requesting feedback about something or are arguing for policy change.

Without being a curator, you can add new names and open flags to ask curators to change which name is the default for a particular language or delete particularly problematic names. Assuming you’ve never done this before:

On the taxon page for, e.g., Parmotrema perlatum, there’s a row of tabs below the images. Select the “Taxonomy” tab, and scroll down until you see the list of names in different languages. On the right there’s a button labelled “Add a Name”. From there it should be obvious how to continue.

On the same taxon page, to the right of the row of tab names is a menu labelled “Curation”, which contains an item labelled “Flag for Curation”. The instructions on that page are a bit terse, and the “Reason” can’t be edited after being submitted, but you can look at the details of other flags first so you know what they look like, and the comment can be as detailed as you like and can be edited later.

It’s possible to open a flag on a broad taxon which asks a curator to change things on multiple species. I don’t yet have enough experience to judge when doing that works better than opening separate flags on each species.

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A common name - is meant to be - a name in common usage (in this place). Oral history.

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Some of the problematic names are made up by autors of field guides and some iNat users insist that these are used on iNat.

It depends then on the individual curator, if these names are kept or deleted when flagged.