Display major categories in taxon name choices to better disambiguate similar names


Problem: users frequently are accidentally choosing the wrong ID due to similar or identical names (common or scientific). See related discussion here. Examples:

  • Typing in Trentepohlia pulls up identical (hemihomonym) genera in green algae and insects, plus additional choices in both categories at other ranks.
  • Typing in “Anemone s” pulls up choices in plants and animals (both with radial symmetry!).
    The accompanying small thumbnails are not always visually distinctive enough to catch the eye in time. I’ve personally encountered and corrected numerous IDs that happened this way.

Need: more visually prominent cue(s) to help distinguish similar name choices.

Suggested solution: display the (language-specific) major category with each name in all taxon pick-lists generated on the site. For example, when typing in Trentepohlia, or displaying automatic CV suggestions, or wherever, the list (in English) would look something like

  • plant Genus Trentepohlia
  • insect Genus Trentepohlia
  • plant Family Trentepohliaceae
  • insect Species Trentepohlia africana
    • Open to discussion whether these tags should be just Kingdom common names (Plants, Animals, Fungi, Protozoa, Archaea, Viruses, Bacteria, Chromista) or should include the other iconic categories (Insects, Arachnids, Birds, Mammals, etc.) Either way, it would be nice to use the singular form instead of the plural form in the tags, if not too difficult.

Alternately (or in addition): display the colored Category icon (Plants, Insects, Birds, etc.) right next to the taxon thumbnail (and at the same size as the thumbnail, to better catch the eye). But do we have category icons for every Kingdom yet?

Fully aware that either or both of these will widen selection lists considerably, just thinking it’s worth it to make IDs and other taxon selections less error-prone. Could be a major concern on the phone apps, but my sense is that these errors are happening more often with app users, where smaller display, sun glare, etc. are added factors.

And yes, depending on photo quality and content, even CV suggestion lists can include options from more than one Kingdom, so visual tags are needed there too.

Also, I am intentionally not limiting this request to just known scientific hemi-homonyms since the same issue affects common names even more in many groups. Just doing it for everything seems like the most straightforward approach.


Homonyms in Organism Names

And please, someone think of a shorter (but still descriptive) title for this request! :blush:

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Personally, I dont think this is an issue. Errors are easily detected and rapidly fixed.

I would prefer to see programmers deal with more urgent and important requests. But there is not an ‘unvote’ button (perhaps just as well).

Title: Identify and categorize (as animal, plant or bacteria) hemihomonyms in dropdown ID lists

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This is unnecessary: duplicate names are not allowed within nomenclatural systems: any duplicate name will either be:

  • invalid and therefore not display (or display as a lead to a valid name)
  • one of each of an Animal, Plant or Bacteria.

If you are suggesting that this be applied to similar names as well: e.g.
Corymbia - Myrtaceae
Corymbium - Asteraceae
you are opening up a new huge can of worms!! Note that both are plants and not worms!



I should point out - my solution to these problems has been to add common names:
Erica Heaths
Erica Erica Spiders
Tritonia Tritons
Tritonia Triton Seaslugs
Corymbia Bloodgums
Corymbium Plampers

That usually works quite well in the dropdown lists and has drastically reduced the number of such mistakes.
(and if you have turned off common names, then you should not be susceptible to such mistakes)

A far bigger problem is the “add name from external provider” which always puts Erica scientific plant names into the Erica spider genus (or is it the other way around: all our Erica names are now on, so it has been a while …).

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sometimes common names are the problem. a couple of weeks ago, i went in and fixed a bunch of observations in Mexico of butterflies/moths IDed (some to Research Grade) as Heteropterys glabra because the common name for that plant is Mariposa. Also lots of people seem to be submitting observations of random Fabaceae family members under genus Pisum because of “pea” and “wild pea”, though is that a case of misidentification based on wrong name or a more fundamental misidentification?

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Part of the issue here is that lots of people know different things by the same common name, but iNat tends to only allow one common name per species.
So as a consequence the common name I know may point to a different species if you know it as that species and entered the common name first.

There is no right or wrong common names (except mine are always right, and if yours is different it must be wrong), and perhaps the best option to to take common names used for many species to the genus level?? I have no strong feelings on this, although I prefer if 20 species are known by a common name, then all should have that common name on iNat.
That would alert a novice to the fact that what they are calling a “Pea” may in fact be many things!



I have found things that have been at research grade for quite a while. Depends on how active the ID community is in a particular area or taxon.

Not limiting my request to hemihomonyms. Mistakes based on common names are more frequent in my experience.

The bulk of users won’t be familiar with the three nomenclatural systems, might not think of insects as “Animals”, etc. The idea is to make things less error-prone for all levels of users.

And in the Corymbia/Corymbium example, having “plant” or a green leaf icon next to both names won’t hurt, and may help if mixed in with choices from other categories. Not sure what can o’ worms you are referring to – my proposal is already to do this with every name displayed in a pick list, not just selectively for hemihomonyms.

This can certainly help, but I would not advocate creating common names (at least at species level) solely to address this issue. To the extent possible those should be “real” common names. And in many legitimate cases the same common name has been used for more than one taxon.



How many cases could there possibly be of a similar common name among similar scientific names?: How many Spiders (Erica) are going to have similar common names to Heaths (Erica)?
Other sharing of common names is irrelevant to this argument, and should not be an issue.



Similar scientific and common names can vary independently across nomenclatural groups. Check the “Anemone s” example in my original post – I’m sure one could find more. The Anemone issue was a real use case in the discussion I linked.

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But do we really need global solutions to single problems?

Anemone is a problem: live with it!

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If it isn’t a problem for you then what do you gain by telling other people to “live with it?” Please, either just ignore the topic or offer your suggestions or provide useful information. Telling people to “live with it” feels dismissive to me and is unproductive. You can offer your disagreement in a way that doesn’t minimize or invalidate the experience of other users. Please.

Since this is a global community all of our solutions should meet the needs of the broadest user base and a “single problem” may in fact be a much larger one.



yep. and it’s been a problem i have seen too. For a while there were like 40 species of Sphagnum moss with the common name of ‘Sphagnum’. I don’t know the answer but ignoring the problem isn’t it.

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Yes, mariposa is another good example of a common name that is used widely across nomenclatural groups.

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The problem with common names in common is not a new one, nor is it iNat specific. It is why we are encouraged to use scientific names when it is important to remove ambiguity.

Take our Red Admiral butterfly (New Zealand), Vanessa gonerilla. Red Admiral for butterflies brings up hundreds! We have a location assigned to our common name entry to help it get selected for New Zealand, and the common names have been “augmented” with the New Zealand qualifier.

To help highlight the embarrassment that can be caused:


this is a stamp from a set with the subject “Predator Free 2050”, and illustrates many iconic NZ endemic species… only they got the image for the Red Admiral totally wrong!



this is our NZ red admiral:

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ no change



Oh dear! Embarrassing is right!



Please dont over-read intent that is not there into comments. perhaps I should have worded it as:

But do we really need global solutions to single problems?
Anemone is a problem: we have to live with it!

If you unhide the post I shall be happy to edit it.



Tony, I appreciate you may not have meant to sound the way you did but the onus of effective communication is on you, the communicator and not the recipients who are a globally diverse audience of mostly strangers. If multiple people seem to be “over-reading intent” then it is your responsibility to adjust.

Your corrected wording is an improvement but the entirety of that post is simply a restating of your opinion from earlier posts and therefore isn’t adding anything here except for negative emphasis.

The Feature Requests category exists so we don’t have to “live with it” and can, as a community, help better the resource that is iNat through cooperation and suggestions. If several people are stating an issue with a need to disambiguate similar names then either add what you can to the conversation or don’t participate. Stating repeated disagreement with no new information is not productive and not indicated as proper use of the forum.




That would have been better as a DM I think…

Tony’s remark was not out of line, in my opinion at least. He simply asked “Do we need to redecorate the whole house, just because the front door needs painting”. To carry on the same analogy, “the front door still locks, even though it looks ugly”!

His points are valid. The wording maybe a little strong and in the face, but not offensive or overly provocative. And even then, provocative can be a good thing at times! Yes, the same names (hemihomonyms) exist, but they will both come up in the shortlist, and it is on the identifier to exercise care in selecting. I have been caught by it, I have caught others in it, and it is not the end of the world! We have each others backs when it comes to IDs, and the mistakes I make should be picked up by others reviewing the same observations, and vice versa. I had a case today where someone was identifying a camellia, and I think they stopped typing at “came” or something like that, because they had selected Camelus as the ID. We will get the CID corrected, we can live with it! It got a chuckle by at least a couple of us. For the time being we have a camel sitting in a garden bed in Christchurch, completely minding it’s own business, until such time as enough people stop chuckling and turn him into a flower.

I think part of the reason I concluded that his remarks are not out of line… you quoted him in your reply, which you would not have done if they were offensive, and you have hidden his comments, but not your own that has the quoted text. If it were me, I would be sending him a DM, pointing out that his wording can be interpreted by some as a little strong at times, and that I would be giving him a nudge (via DM) every now and then to be mindful of it!