Do Monotypic Genera need Common Names?

Lots of monotypic genera seem to have common names when this seems (to me anyway) to be completely pointless. Here are a few examples:

Genus Seiurus is called “Ovenbird Warblers” (the only species in this genus is the Ovenbird).

Genus Cairina is called “Muscovy Ducks” (the only species in this genus is the Muscovy Duck).

Genus Sanguinaria is called “Bloodroots” (the only species in this genus is the Bloodroot).

To me, it seems completely unnecessary for these genera to have common names, as their only member already has a common name. People see the common name on the genus and ID as that, often not noticing that they accidentally picked the genus instead of the species. This causes extra work for identifiers and is quite annoying. But perhaps there is a purpose to these common names I’m just not seeing?

So, is there a reason to keep these names, or should they just be deleted?


Every monotypic genus was or could still be a polytypic genus. Nothing is static. I don’t see a problem with having a common name attached to them even if it seems redundant. The fact that some iNatters fail to ID at species level when they see the genus name seems like a minor issue.


I’d say it’s rather cv suggests genus instead of species and people choose it.


I think the official unofficial iNat policy is that iNat users don’t apply common names to taxa that don’t already have common names in-use or published elsewhere. So the question is moot for iNat–it either has one or it doesn’t.

More broadly speaking, there may be other species within the genus that are now extinct (but known and described). So policing such a rule would be a big time-sink.


From my experience, CV always suggests genus rather than species, as @Marina_Gorbunova mentioned, so it doesn’t really matter whether the genus has a common name or not.
I often see people identifying the Roughtail Rock Agama (Stellagama stellio) as “Genus Stellagama” (which doesn’t have a common name on iNat, btw), because that’s what the cv tells them. At the moment this genus is monotypic, but two more species have been described recently, so it will change. Things are quite dynamic in taxonomy.


Agreed, similar case in the monotypic rat snake genus Senticolis. Currently monotypic but a new paper I just read suggests more diversity in the single species (which has recognized subspecies) than previously known. I anticipate some splitting.


I think having the common names is useful for reasons stated already, but I can see the common occurrence of people choosing the genus instead of the single species in that genus because their common names are the same (the plural is easy to overlook if you are batch uploading and adding fast). Maybe change the common name for genus (good luck on deciding that, I dislike common names)

My solution to the common name problem is to set my preferences to showing the Latin name first and then the single name versus the binomial is hard to miss. You can still search for common names on this priority, but the scientific names are the first I see when IDing.


For this exact reason I’m often sorting things into a species complex even if we only have one known species in my region. People question me on it occasionally, but I can’t control future taxonomy, I can just expect changes ;)

I’ve seen some recent papers that describe species in monotypic genera specifically give their monotypic genera common names, likely under the expectation that more species may be found. For example, the monotypic frog genus Mysticellus, containing only M. frankii (Franky’s narrow-mouthed frog), was given the common name “Mysterious narrow-mouthed frogs”.

That said, for well-studied taxa like Seiurus, I highly doubt there will be any future splitting to justify a common name for the genus

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The Northern Waterthrush was once placed in the genus Seiurus…but when it was, it wasn’t referred to as an ovenbird. Even when in the same genus, the name ovenbird was used to refer to S. aurocapilla and not to S. noveboracensis. This makes me think that the name ovenbird isn’t actually a commonly used name for the genus. Which goes beyond the question of whether genera should be allowed to have common names despite some genera having them. But it does show how muddy the water can be. I suspect that someone on iNaturalist “invented” the name ovenbird for the genus and that iNat is the only place where it’s being used in this way (which would be inappropriate).

Both quotes below use the name ovenbird to refer to only one species in the genus, not both.

“Ornithologist E. H. Forbush’s observation about the Northern Waterthrush, made more than half a century ago, still applies: “It is a large wood warbler disguised as a thrush and exhibiting an extreme fondness for water.” Like its relative the Ovenbird, it walks rather than hops.”

" 37. Seiurus aurocapillus (Linnaeus)
This is the first fossil record of the ovenbird.
The rostrum of S. noveboracensis is smaller and narrower, of
S. motacilla broader and shorter. The rostra of Microligea palustris
and M. montana are quite similar to that of S. aurocapillus, but they
have a nasal partition, lacking in the ovenbird."

Bernstein, L. (1965). Fossil birds from the Dominican Republic. Quarterly Journal of the Florida Academy of Sciences , 28 (3), 271-284.


My preference, at least for the taxa I curate (mostly vertebrates, especially mammals), is to omit English common names for monotypic genera. I think it just makes things confusing for users making observations or IDs. If a genus is explicitly known to have cryptic undescribed taxa, then that would be one thing. But generally, I think it is redundant and artificially keeps observations away from a species-level ID.


So even if there is a legitimate source for the generic common name, such as a taxonomic or common names checklist that has been sourced for all other common names used on iNat, you want to pretend there is not one for the genus because some users don’t take the ID down to species? How about looking at it this way – the AI selects a genus and it has a common name attached, so the observer now has more information for what to call the critter than they likely had before. A bare genus, with no common name, isn’t necessarily going to make them more informed about their subject if they’re not familiar with taxonomy.


I personally don’t know of any published common names for monotypic genera that are separate from the child taxon, so it isn’t an issue I had ever needed to consider.

This doesn’t mean they don’t exist - just that I haven’t encountered them.


This strikes me as a solution in search of a problem. Users who rely on computer vision are probably going to follow the CV suggestion and that will be at genus level (at least most of time, in my experience). It won’t matter in most such cases if there’s a common name attached to the genus or not, or if there is one species or multiple. Monotypic genus-level IDs will be IDed to species rather quickly by those who know the taxon, since there’s nothing to evaluate.

All that aside, there are published sources for various higher-level taxa that use a common name for monotypic genera. Therefore they can be legitimately used on iNat.


Agree to disagree, I guess. There’s no policy covering this. I just don’t think it benefits much to include common names for monotypic genera and results in more confusion than necessary, even if just by a little bit.

When people add common names to monospecific genera, in my experience, they didn’t obtain the name by finding it off of the site. They just took the default name for the child taxon and added an “s” to the end. That doesn’t seem to be the popular thing to do off of iNaturalist. The reference books I own tend to apply common names to monospecific family-level taxonomic groups and explicitly don’t for the genera. I think it’s nice when things like encyclopedias and field guides are complemented by what’s on the site.

There are many mobile-phone users who don’t rely on the CV for making their IDs - they search the name most familiar to them in the search bar.


To be clear, I’m not the arbiter for anything on iNaturalist. If other folks largely feel different from me, than that is something I should probably get over.

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That was not always so. The two species of Parkesia were once Seiurus. Which makes it rather ironic that ash2016 wrote,

Whether species is monotypic or not is irrelevant to common names. Common names are what’s used by people for casual convenience and by the majority of people in the world as they neither know, nor care about the binomial name.

If there exists a common name for a monotypic species, then use it. If one does not exist, then there isn’t one and it’s not our position to make one up.


This isn’t about monotypic species, it’s about monotypic genera.


I know many herpetological sources (field guides and “official” name lists) that provide a common name for every subspecies, species, genus, and family. I imagine the same is true with other groups. It would seem weird to me to selectively omit some of those from iNaturalist.