Frequent incorrect observations due to specific common names!

Do ya’ll run into specific species that get “caught in the algorithm” of iNat’s suggested ID due to their common name?

For example, in my region I’ve realized that iNaturalist will usually recommend Dichanthelium latifolium (Broad-leaved panic grass, conservative in my state) to users uploading pictures of a large Dichanthelium, even though 99% of the time it’s really D. clandestinum (Deer-tongue grass, essentially a weed). While these species are easy to confuse, I’m sure the reason the former gets priority recommendation over the latter is because originally users just assumed the “broad leaved panic grass” was the right ID because it just sounds right. Does anyone else have specific examples of this happening in your region? I can’t really think of any solution other than knowledgeable users correcting all the observations which would, in theory, add feedback to the algorithm to prioritize the correct species, right?

I’m assuming this phenomenon only really occurs in the more obscure entities that have a low threshold of observations.


Yes, I imagine this is a ubiquitous problem, especially for insects that can’t really be identified to species based on a habitus photo. The first name that gets applied to a member of the group has a huge replication advantage and tends to snowball. I’ve seen what I think are examples of this in my group, armored scale insects (Hemiptera: Diaspididae). Repairing it requires systematically changing a lot of names. But mostly I don’t try to repair them because, what if some people actually know what they are doing and have some sort of inside information about what species it is? I think a few identifiers really do have such information, but most don’t. To be very specific, I have repaired the likely cases of Chionaspis heterophyllae being identified as Chionaspis pinifoliae, but I am leaving alone the many cases of Chrysomphalus aonidium, even though I suspect several of them may be other species of Chrysomphalus.


Bambusa vulgaris, Golden Bamboo or Common Bamboo. It just sounds like it should be the right name for all bamboos with yellow stems and maybe all bamboos one is likely to see, doesn’t it? But it’s usually not correct. One handy thing: it’s not frost tolerant so you can be certain that all more or less wild observations of it in the Pacific Northwest of North America are wrong (and there used to be lots of them).


Similarly, Guadua angustifolia. Lots of people see a big bamboo in South America and call it Guadua angustifolia. There are many other Guadua species, and lots of cultivated/escaped Bambusa!


what if some people actually know what they are doing and have some sort of inside information about what species it is?

In my experience, if you “undo” their identification, they will generally come along and explain that additional information/context, in which case you can adjust/revoke your own identification


This is certainly an issue in groups like leafminers, rusts, powdery mildews, and galls, in which someone will give one species an English name in iNaturalist like “goldenrod rust” or “apple leafminer,” even though multiple species can occur on a given host genus. People pick the species that has the English name they recognize, rather than species with scientific names only, and it snowballs from there, as described above.


Definitely an issue with moths. Some of my favorite common name goofiness from the USA that I’ve seen lead to many misidentifications:
-The most ubiquitous moths with “tussock moth” in their names (Lophocampa caryae and Halysidota spp) are not in the subfamily called “tussock moths” (Lymantriinae)
-The “darker diacme” and “paler diacme” can’t be separated based on how dark or pale they are
-The Red Twin-Spot Carpet and Red Twin-spot Carpet are found in different hemispheres (note the difference in capitalization of the s)
-The Alfalfa Looper and Alfalfa Looper Moth aren’t even in the same family
-The least common Hahncappsia in the eastern US is called “Common Hahncappsia Moth”
-The Evergreen Bagworm Moth is found on hundreds of different hosts, most of them not evergreens
-The Hickory Tussock Moth gets misidentified when it’s feeding on Walnut, which it often does
-Most Sphinx moths aren’t in the genus Sphinx
-Hundreds of caterpillar species make silken tents to live in, but only one genus of them gets the name “tent caterpillars” (and some of the ones in that genus aren’t even tent-builders!)
-A bunch of the Papaipema are named based on a host plant, but the caterpillars don’t actually restrict themselves to the plant in their names (Indigo Stem Borers use dogbane, Coneflower Borers use burdock, Burdock Borers use coneflower and anything else under the sun, etc.)
-There are species with the common names “Common Gray Moth”, “Brown House Moth”, and “White Spring Moth”, despite tens of thousands of moths being brown, gray, or white, flying in the spring, and entering houses. These are a minefield of misidentifications.
I find these are all good species to focus ID attention on, since they’re usually the ones where misidentified observations are most common.


Green rabbitbrush
In most western states, this is Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus. But in California, the Jepson manual calls this species yellow rabbitbrush and Ericameria teretifolia is green rabbitbrush. Since the site is biased toward California names and species, those are the names that get used. People all over the western US choose the E. teretifolia version, even though it’s restricted to California and a little bit of Nevada, because they don’t understand the difference.


Every time I think of dicey moth names the unrelated noctuids known as the bright line brown eye and brown line bright eye come to mind.


Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus, applied to ever so many ornamental hybrid daylilies on every college and school campus. They’re yellow, and daylilies!


That’s nuts!


I have nothing particularly productive to add to this conversation, but a couple of months ago, while at the zoo with my daughter, she wanted me to post a picture of the Cheetah to iNat, which I did (captive, of course). It was only later that I realized I had IDd it as Alytarchia amanda, a moth, whose common name happens to be “Cheetah”.

I imagine it would have been caught pretty quickly had it been an observation of a wild animal (both the moth and the cat share the same general geographic area).


Columbia Lily (Lilium columbiana) is way more commonly called “Tiger Lily” in my region so there’s a lot of people incorrectly identifying them as Lilium lancifolium which has the common name Tiger lily on iNat.

Checker Lily (Fritillaria affinis) is much more commonly called “Chocolate lily” here so often misidentified as Fritillaria biflora.

From my experience of adding observations of these species, the AI never suggests the incorrect IDs, it’s unfortunately just inexperienced people thinking they know the correct ID because that’s the name they know it by but don’t know the scientific name and don’t realize the common name is being used for a different species.


Bellis :sunflower: :blossom: anything and anyone called Daisy ends up here.


Spanish users can make at least two big misclicks. If you type “mariposas” the first option is not “lepidoptera” but birds of the genus Passerina. Second, if users want to get a spider identified, they sometimes choose the plant Schoepfia arenaria, which has the common name “araña”.


Well, you might be surprised. It has been really bewildering to me how often Colocasia, Alocasia and Xanthosoma are misidentified as each other, even in countries where these are food crops. It seems on a par with seeing North Americans misidentifying carrots and parsnips as each other. But it may be that the common names are confusing people, whether that is “elephant’s ear” (a common name of all three of these genera) or whatever the food crops are locally called in those countries.

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This is an interesting example. Besides the possible confusion around its common name, it might also simply mean that people group these genera into the same mental schema. As in, they’re not just clicking the wrong common name, but they are not aware there is a distinction.

I suppose that’s how confusions like these started as well:

@Paul_dennehy: The most ubiquitous moths with “tussock moth” in their names (Lophocampa caryae and Halysidota spp) are not in the subfamily called “tussock moths” (Lymantriinae)

The one I see the most here in the Pacific Northwest as a plant ID’er is Sword Fern. The observer meant Polystichum munitum (Western Sword Fern), but nobody here says that. People just call them “sword fern.” But in iNat, Sword Fern resolves to genus Nephrolepis. I’m not even sure what a Nephrolepis is, but it’s certainly not what we would call a “sword fern.”

Another common mishap is what many people call “angel wings”. They meant Pleurocybella porrigens, but ah, that is “Angel’s Wings”. “Angel Wings” is actually a Senecio species of some kind. I’ve seen observations go to “State of Matter Life” over this.


Also in the same region:
When people say “tansy,” they mean Jacobaea vulgaris. But choosing the common name “tansy” on iNaturalist gives you Tanacetum vulgare.


Maybe in the Pacific Northwest, they do, but not in Europe.

There are unfortunately lots of common names that get reapplied to different species in other regions.

It is possible to indicate the region for which a common name applies on iNat. I think regular users can add common names but not edit existing ones, so it might be worthwhile to flag some of these cases if they are leading to many wrong IDs.