"Misleading" scientific names

I mean scientific names, mostly genera, species or subspecies, that can be somehow misleading in relation to their meaning.
Few examples:

  • Scilla peruviana is native to the west Mediterranean and is not from Peru nor from the Americas.
  • Orobanche flava is more often pinkish or orangish rather then true yellow.
  • Opuntia ficus-indica (Cactaceae): what has the fruit of the Indian fig got to do with those of the genus Ficus (Moraceae)?

PS: not only plants!


Callococcus acaciae is hosted by Kunzea, not Acacia.


There are some more examples in this thread: The name sounds native, but it's not. For example:


Not from Madagascar
Adding insult to injury, the genus was recently changed from Plectranthus to Coleus.
But the rules insist that ‘Madagascar is wrong’ remains because It Was FIRST.


Asclepias syriaca is from eastern North America. Linnaeus was confused.

Cymopterus terebinthinus. var. albiflorus has yellow flowers. Always. But the flower color fades when the petals dry.


Kind of weak, but none of the species in the genus Salvadora are found in El Salvador (but I don’t think that’s how the genus got its name).

Contrastingly, Iguana iguana is in fact an iguana.


Satisfying. Counterpoint: Puffinus puffinus is not a puffin.


Coluber constrictor isn’t really known to use constriction much or at all.


Two similar species of nighthawks have confusing names. Of the two, Chordeiles minor is a little larger than Chordeiles acutipennis, and the latter, despite a name meaning sharp-winged, has less pointed wings than its congener.


Columbicola extinctus… it’s not extinct (although it was once thought to be)!


You don’t want to know what the word puffin means. Sob.
It was the Manks puffin.


I always noticed the Caribbean helmet shell Cassis madagascariensis is found nowhere near Madagascar


Tchagra australis is not found in Australia. It is found in southern Africa. However, keep in mind that austral is pertaining to the Southern Hemisphere. More confusing is that Tchagra tchagra is the most southern found Tchagra (according to iNat distribution maps) and holds the common name Southern Tchagra. :thinking:


Regarding Salvadora – according to the Reptile Database the “generic name is composed of the Latin words salvos, meaning “sound or well preserved” and dura, meaning “tough or outer covering,” probably in reference to the smooth, tough skin.”

Maybe that’s right, maybe not.


Agraulis vanillae is a heliconian butterfly. As such, its host plant is passionflower, not vanilla.

Another butterfly, Anartia jatrophae, according to Wikipedia, feeds on Bacopa (Plantaginaceae), Phyla (Verbenaceae), and Ruellia (Acanthaceae). All Lamiales. Jatropha is Euphorbiaceae, and is not known to host this caterpillar.


Arctomecon californica was first named from type specimens gathered near Las Vegas, Nevada. The species is not known anywhere near present-day California.

The punch line? The type specimens were gathered in 1844, when present-day Las Vegas was still part of the Mexican territory of Alta California. The species was named in 1845 for that territory by John Torrey and John C. Frémont in Frémont’s Report of the exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the year 1842, and to Oregon and North California in the year 1843-44. The common name for the species is Las Vegas bearpoppy.


The classic one for me is Pan troglodytes for chimpanzee which suggests this ape is a cave-dweller.


The red-bellied black snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus) was once classified as a member of the viper family due to its venomous nature and the presence of venom-producing glands. Further study discovered that the red-bellied black snake is more closely related to other elapid snakes and should be placed in the Elapidae family. This reclassification was based on the snake’s molecular genetics, morphology, and venom composition.

  • The classification of the raptor dinosaurs was once thought to be birds, but is now understood to be a separate group of theropod dinosaurs.
  • The taxonomy of the genus Canis, which includes dogs, wolves, and coyotes, has been revised multiple times due to new genetic evidence.
  • The giant panda was once classified as a bear, but is now considered a separate family due to genetic and morphological differences.
  • The classification of the platypus as a mammal was once disputed, but is now widely accepted.

These examples show that scientific names can sometimes be misleading and can change as new information and research becomes available.


iNat is, skewed to the North. That is why we have the Great Southern Bioblitz to counter the Northern spring City Nature Challenge. We are mid-summer down here :grin:

PS there is an even more Southern subspecies

Yes, I am aware of that, thank you. So far the most northern of the southern Southern :wink:

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