I think Suborder Heterocera should be added to iNat

I think the Suborder Heterocera should be added to iNat. The butterflies already have one taxonomic group to represent them (Superfamily Papilionoidea), why not let the moths have one too? I think that adding Heterocerans as a taxonomic group would make identifying Lepidopterans a little bit easier. Theres been several times when I’ve been identifying Leps and I’ve come across a species of micromoth that I know for sure isn’t a butterfly, but can’t ID it at least at the superfamily level, this is where identifying this Lep as “Moths (Suborder Heterocera)” would be helpful. What do you guys think? Is there a reason this isn’t official?


Hi @wolfram06; this question has been brought up a few times previously in other threads. See eg https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/please-subdivide-lepidoptera-butterflies-moths-and-create-a-sub-order-lepidoptera-moths-only/12083 and https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/moths-not-a-search-option/8758

There are some good explanations in those threads as to why Heterocera is not a rank on iNat, largely revolving around the fact that it’s very much not a monophyletic group. There are some paraphyletic groups on iNat, but these tend to be very well-used groupings across many biodiversity data resources, whereas Heterocera is a taxon that is not recognised as valid across many databases.


There is a good explanation here (Comparison of butterflies and moths) about why butterflies are a natural monophyletic group but moths – essentially being defined as all the other lepidopterans that aren’t butterflies – cannot be so under any accurate taxonomic system.

I understand your motivation for this question, because I expect that you (like most of us) often can’t tell the difference between the various unrelated groups that make up ‘the moths’. But allow me to reframe your question with some groups that you are confident at distinguishing. Let’s say an alien came down to Earth and said “all these birds and bats all look basically the same to me; you should put them under one taxonomic grouping on iNaturalist”. Whilst creating such a group might help aliens doing IDing on iNat to classify flying vertebrates vs non-flying ones, I think you would agree that creating a taxonomic grouping of the birds and bats for this purpose would be messy, inaccurate and counterproductive. It’s an exaggerated example to make a point – but that’s essentially the same situation as we would have with the paraphyletic ‘Heterocera’.

It’s worth also mentioning that most of the world’s languages don’t make a distinction between butterflies and moths, so Heterocera is a taxon that mainly anglophone people instinctively feel would help simplify things. This is an important point. It shows that artificial distinctions originate in natural language. In another language, they might have a special word for the crow family, and another word that they use to refer to ‘all other birds’. People who speak that language would feel it natural for iNat to create a paraphyletic taxon for ‘all birds excluding the crows’.


No, it isn’t. Because neither birds nor bats nest within the other the way butterflies nest within “moths.”

That is a better analogy. Although there, too, we have retained the distinction between birds and reptiles to simplify things, and between snakes and lizards, even though these are essentially the same situation.

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