Missing species being added as synonyms to their genus

Hi everyone,

In the last few weeks I’ve fixed (deleted) quite a few instances where someone has added the name of a species that is missing from our taxonomy as a synonym of the parent genus. This results in searches for the missing taxon redirecting to the genus.

I suspect someone well-meaning but who has no idea what they’re doing were trying to add the species to our taxonomy and were confused by the wording “Add a Name” in the taxon page, thinking this would add the species to our taxonomy.

Please keep an eye out for these.

Is there a way to search names for common errors such as:

  • Genera (or species) that have multiple valid scientific names;
  • Genera that have multi-word scientific names as well (valid or invalid).

Are you sure they’re not faulty name imports? E.g.:

I don’t see it very often, but yes, I do see imports break that way on occasion.

It isn’t people adding the names, but the names getting automatically imported from EoL or CoL. I know one person has been adding a lot of names that way, and some of them end up just getting automatically added to the species. If they were being manually added, it would say who added them, and it says nothing. I have also had it happen to me when trying to add species automatically before.

Definitely a mix of errors with imports and people trying to add new taxa. I see it very frequently that people try to add new species to iNaturalist by clicking “Add a Name” on the Taxonomy tab for the genus.

You can view who added the name, if it was a person, by editing the name and checking for a username at the bottom. If there’s no username it would have been part of a mass import or auto-import.

I don’t know of a way to search names for those types of errors.

I deleted a ton of them for Ilex in response to a couple of flags. It looked like they were all imported from EOL.


Since these had appeared as new names for long-established genera, I’d assumed misguided additions rather than bungled imports. Thanks for chiming in!

One lot of names was definitely added by someone trying to insert taxa into our taxonomy, as they eventually proceeded to flag the genera asking for the species they wanted and I asked that they just keep on flagging genera when they wanted species added, explaining that adding a name to the genus does not work that way…


Hm, I see it pretty frequently. Here’s another one that just came in (species/subspecies instead of genus/species):

Hello, I know that some of you are talking about me, but I do not understand, am I doing something wrong when trying to add species automatically, importing them from external databases? I have not changed anything in my way of adding species. Is it good to always put a flag for every time I see one of those cases? Is there a way to prevent this from happening when adding species automatically or is it inevitable?

Speaking as someone who deals with a good number of your flags, if you can import them, please try to continue doing so.

On the whole, the majority of the time it works, but as noted some odd things are happening on some records.


I don’t know if there’s anything you can change about the buggy imports, but what you’ve been doing (checking your affected taxa and then flagging the import errors) is absolutely best practice. Maybe someone with more experience doing imports could do a quick how-to on the process?


FWIW, in this Astragalus example, A. longifolius is a known synonym of A. ceramicus filifolius (http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/24627-2#synonyms). I wonder if someone tried to import A. longifolius, the process recognized that and created a taxon with the accepted name, but failed to mark the synonym as not accepted?

Other than that last problem, seems like this would be a reasonable way to add synonyms.

yep, that’s what I said in the bug report: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/duplicated-scientific-name-on-taxon-page/10777/8

1 Like

Hi @nicolasr, I definitely was not talking about you, the person I referred to had been manually adding a new name to the list of names for the genus, not trying to get the name to import into our database as you do.

It is common to see those dual species / infraspecies names import automatically, not sure there’s much to do about it other than fix them when we come across them.

1 Like

@jwidness, I think this happens when someone tries to import a name which is a synonym and the automated import doesn’t process correctly for some reason. The algorithm works OK to realise there is another name for the taxon, but fails to mark the originally-requested name as a ‘not current’ scientific name.

Yep, exactly so, thought that sounded familiar… :wink:

You’re kidding, in trying to add a new species name, you don’t have a coded suggestion box to review then add the newbie?
I’d withhold an ID in favor of waiting for your approval of the correct species addition. Promoting participation by the masses at the cost of accuracy or promoting misunderstanding isn’t a noble effort. At least, please support experts trying to make it easier to get it right.

iNat has two ways to add missing taxa to its taxonomy:

  1. Use the “Search External Sources” option when a name isn’t found, and see if it can be found and imported. As noted above, this process is occasionally buggy.

  2. Flag the parent taxon for curation, and ask for the missing taxon to be added.

In either of these cases, if the taxon being added is not recognized in iNat’s taxonomic framework standard references, there may be some additional discussion involved before the taxon is either added, or placed in synonymy with the accepted name.

This thread is specifically about a third way people have been trying to add names, which does not work, which is to use “Add a Name” on the taxonomy tab of a taxon page. This only adds common names and scientific name synonyms for the single taxon in question. If someone tries to identify an observation using a name added in that manner, they will only find the taxon on whose page the name was added.