iNat guidelines are clear that a common name should only be added to a taxon if the name already exists outside iNat, but I am not aware of any consensus or previous forum discussion on if or when a common name that does exist outside iNat should be deemed too confusing and removed from iNat, this issue is coming up specifically with English common names of ants
This has been debated in at least 3 different flag discussions with variable results,
to my knowledge the first one was this: https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/573337, but this was mostly about the validity of “adapted common names”, which are a separate issue
The question of whether to remove common names in widespread use that are deemed confusing seems to be a larger issue than what can be realistically discussed in a flag on each species affected, so I decided to post this and see what others think
P.S can anyone tell me how to ping users in the forum? (I already notified the 4 main users involved in the linked discussions of this post, but I would like to know how to ping on the forum in the future)
Common names are not vital to the site’s function, at least and especially with insects.
If a common name is readily used on the site, even if it is poor, it should stay. I wanted to remove “Black Cocktail Ant” a while ago but a few people complained so it remains.
If a common name is extremely misleading and indistinct, no one relies on it, and a copious amount of misidentifications occur due to people misusing the name, it should be removed—why not?
“Little Black Ant” can refer to literally thousands of species across the globe in colloquial speech, because the name essentially means nothing. Just yesterday, someone uploaded Tetramorium immigrans and called them “little black ants;” it’s not unlikely they would’ve suggested Monomorium minimum if the common name was listed at the time. When I removed the name a while ago, I noticed a significant decrease in misidenticiations even on a day-to-day basis from observers. Additionally, practically nobody who is reliant on common names can even differentiate M. minimum from other members of the species group, and the species group is unnamed. Overall, my reasoning for removing common names like this is that they cause considerable trouble for identifiers (I discussed the removal with other ant identifiers before making changes), and they serve zero benefit as no one needs them; they cause harm but no good. The only times the names have been re-added have been due to people saying “the species have official common names, and they’re missing from the site,” and although that is very true, iNaturalist is a site the accepts exceptions; in cases like this, it doesn’t break any of the fundamental taxonomy of the site, and increases the quality of life for users, so I truly don’t see a reason to avoid simply removing the names.
It’s also probably worth noting that sometimes, these names, although official, may conflict with other existing names, which I think is a pretty objective reason to avoid them. For M. minimum, so far I’ve only seen one species, M. carbonarium referenced by the same name (“black little ants,” basically the same). However, with stuff like Solenopsis molesta as the “thief ant,” that name directly conflicts with dozens of other Solenopsis species and some others like Carebara that are equally as validly referred to as “thief ants” colloquially. Thus, due to the following, they shouldn’t be added:
Instead, try to add names at the taxonomic level where they describe all members of that taxon and only members of that taxon.
This also applies to regionalized common names (i.e. common names associated with places).
In the case of “thief ant,” species like S. molesta & S. fugax do not encompass all ants that are called “thief ants.”
I think the golden rules here are that having no common name is better than a bad common name, and that the audience for common names is usually an average person with little to no experience in the specific area. A common name being formally recognized is one of a few different factors to consider. The issue here stems from the fact generic names like this can be interpreted as a description rather than a title. Yes, formally speaking, M. minimum is the little black ant, but to the majority of people, it is a little black ant.
I believe Arman explains his case with M. minimum well enough, but I can outline my thinking on a couple others. For Lasius claviger, the common name is in a similar boat to the M. minimum situation (and, in my opinion makes even less sense as a common name since Acanthomyops are among the larger Lasius). I removed the “smaller yellow ant” name for that reason. Exactly how much wiggle room there is for name modifications isn’t strictly defined; for example, many species of Pheidole, including but not limited to P. hyatti, P. tysoni, and P. crassicornis have been given the unofficial common names of Hyatt’s Big-headed Ant, Tyson’s Big-headed Ant, and Thick-horned Big-headed Ant respectively, using the species epithet as a modifier to the genus’ common name. I’m personally not the biggest fan of these types of names, but I don’t think it’s a huge deal either, and I don’t recall these names ever being brought up as an issue. So I took a similar amount of liberty to name L. claviger, the most common species of citronella ant, the Common Citronella Ant. If it is an issue, it can always be deleted.
There’s also Solenopsis molesta, which is formally recognized by the ESA as the thief ant. However, the common European S. fugax is also known as a thief ant. In fact, nearly every species of Solenopsis aside from those in the saevissima and geminata species groups falls under the broad descriptor of a thief ant, and even species of unrelated genera such as some Carebara. Colloquially, thief ant is more of a description of a certain evolutionary niche: a small, pale, hypogaeic, usually plesiobiotic myrmicine. Previously, both S. molesta and S. fugax both had the exact same common name, so we removed them and instead applied the common name a rank up. While S. molesta now sits without a common name for it specifically, it’s under the “molesta-group Thief Ants”, so the information of S. molesta being a thief ant has not been lost.
I have trouble seeing how we can conclude that no one relies on a very widely used common name?
and they serve zero benefit as no one needs them; they cause harm but no good.
I strongly disagree with this, I agree that there are negatives, but there are also positives, for example someone who is trying to tell if some ants are odorous house ants or little black ants may try to look up pictures of little black ants, not knowing the scientific name, but knowing that “little black ant” refers to one specific species, and inaturalist is actually one of the better places on the web to find photographs of ant species. I know an ID guide is not the primary function of iNat, but I think we should take into account how people will actually use the site. Not including such a widely used common name on iNat could also lead people who use iNat to think the species does not have a common name, and when they hear elsewhere of a species called “little black ant” not know what it is referring to. So I think there is also some confusion caused by not including the common name. I also think as a general matter having common names for species that are reasonably prominent makes it easier for more people to take an interest in nature.
Additionally, practically nobody who is reliant on common names can even differentiate M. minimum from other members of the species group
This is very true, in fact I doubt there is even one person who is not good with scientific names who can tell them apart, so assuming their habits and ecological roles are similar (I’m not too familiar with the other members of this group) I think it would make more sense to have the common name apply to the species group, since in practice it is the whole species group that people are referring to when they use the common name
The only times the names have been re-added have been due to people saying “the species have official common names, and they’re missing from the site,”
I can’t speak to anyone else’s reasons, but in this case my argument is that the common name is not just official but has been very widely used for decades to the point where not including the common name is confusing or misleading. If there is an official common name that is not widely used and causes confusion I am not opposed to excluding it. I am opposed to eliminating every common name that is a less than species specific description of appearance (black carpenter ant, ect) and I think we should be careful about removing very widely used names
This is a good point, I am the one who put “thief ant” on Solenopsis molesta, when I went through and put on all the ESA ant common names, but not that you mention it I think this was a mistake on ESA’s part that we are not obliged to repeat, so I will remove the name
On the thief ant issue I agree with you, I think ESA erred by applying an almost genus level common name to a single hard to identify species and we should not repeat the error.
Put simply my thoughts on Monomorium are that “little black ant” created an unusual amount of misidentifications, but this was also a very widely used common name to the point that it also creates confusion to not use the common name, but that the common name should be applied to the whole species group not one species
My concern with Lasius claviger is that a common name that is actually in use for this species has been replaced with a common name that is not actually used, I think this causes confusion, and the misidentification issue with “little black ant” was unique and is not a reason to change any names of any other species
EDIT: sorry i’m new to the forum, and didn’t realize I was supposed to combine my replies into one
I can understand that, and think it’s probably the strongest argument for keeping the name, but I think it’s not really widely used in the sense that it’s actually referred to by that name by common folk, which in my eyes is the reason why common name should exist. It’s been more of a name random pest control services throw onto their sites to appeal to an audience that doesn’t get scientific names, of course usually associated with ants that are misidentified and are not actually M. minimum anyway. When people are colloquially referring “little black ants,” they probably are referring to a number of different species. When they say something like “eastern black carpenter ant,” that’s at least a somewhat more specific and identifiable reference, of course within a range of possible misidentification.
I strongly disagree with this, I agree that there are negatives, but there are also positives, for example someone who is trying to tell if some ants are odorous house ants or little black ants may try to look up pictures of little black ants, not knowing the scientific name, but knowing that “little black ant” refers to one specific species, and inaturalist is actually one of the better places on the web to find photographs of ant species.
I feel like this is where we should have some freedom to mildly adapt names on iNat. For example, “Common Trailing Ant” can be adapted from Ants of Florida’s “trailing ant” name applied to other species of the M. minimum group. I’m not a massive fan of the name, but I think it’s mildly better. Then, “Little Black Ant” can also be added as a name, but put lower in the hierarchy. By doing that, the display name wouldn’t be “Little Black Ant,” but searches of the name would still turn up M. minimum on iNat; it doesn’t promote the confusing name, but still allows for resources to be found. The same could go for L. claviger: have “Common Citronella Ant” as a very reasonable name be the first name, and “Smaller Yellow Ant” be right underneath.
I feel like this is where we should have some freedom to mildly adapt names
I agree with you on this, I have even done this a couple times years ago, but I thought I had since read we weren’t allowed to do this, if this is OK it should be clarified in the name guidelines
Then, “Little Black Ant” can also be added as a name, but put lower in the hierarchy
I like this idea, but then people who type “little black ant” will still be suggested Monomorium minimum, when I type a common name that is lower in the hierarchy that organism is still suggested
@raymie because they just did this today, but in the other order, they should be aware of this discussion
The same could go for L. claviger: have “Common Citronella Ant” as a very reasonable name be the first name, and “Smaller Yellow Ant” be right underneath.
This would be problematic IMO because as far as I know neither L. claviger nor L. interjectus is way more common than the other, so calling one the “common” one is misleading. Maybe just replace “yellow” with “citronella” for clarity and call it “smaller citronella ant” and L. interjectus “larger citronella ant”? I also am not aware of the citronella ants having the same misidentification problem as Monomorium, so I question the necessity of not just using the official common names, although I do think those Lasius official names are silly
Well if you look at observations, L. claviger is about 3x more observed than interjectus (although low-quality worker observations are hard to go past subgenus on), and encompasses most of the range of most Acanthomyops observations overall. If you look at the queen observations under the Gyne(s) present? observation field, in which identification is much more consistent, you can see that claviger is about 5x more seen than interjectus. I just think that “smaller yellow ant” has a similar problem to “little black ant” in that people might type in “yellow ant,” although certainly to a lesser extent. Unfortunately Ants of Florida’s names for the species are a bit ridiculous, so I’m against using those (“Hairy Yellow Underground Ant” doesn’t work much better…), and I don’t know of any other established alternatives.
This is a problem with other arthropod groups too, like spiders. Similar to “Little Black Ant” or “Common House Fly” there are many overly-vague common names that cause a lot of confusion because observers will (apparently) use descriptive terms in the ID box. Names like “Brown House Spider,” even if it is arguably a valid common name somewhere, just add confusion as there are hundreds of brown-ish spider species found in houses around the world. So it’s up to the handful of identifiers to constantly monitor lists of these taxa and patiently correct a never-ending stream of these observations. It’s just one more thing that makes identifying these groups on iNat very frustrating. The majority of observers don’t seem to really care, anyway. This is mostly an issue for taxonomic experts/enthusiasts (identifiers), and folks here will be happy to remind you that trying to maintain an accurate data set is not the point of iNat. I mostly stopped IDing and am enjoying the site a lot more now :)
If any name is in use in a field guide or popular guide, then it should be on iNaturalist for beginners who use common names and popular guides.
Anyone particularly interested soon moves to scientific names, and then only use popular names for the general public, politicians or for getting money (try getting public support for a threatened species that does not have a common name - the immediate response is that if it does not have a vernacular, then why is it of any importance?). Whether the names are relevant, meaningful, confusing or outwright wrong is irrelevant. We must have over 50 species in South Africa officially called “Geelbos” (yellow bush), some of which are only called that at one locality - but in that context the name makes perfect sense, although on a larger scale it is totally meaningless. I dont think any common names published or in use should be deleted from iNaturalist. I agree though that a default more appropriate common name should be used (and even created) for cases that are outright confusing.
And dont forget our poor northern countries, where there is “The Frog”, “The Toad”, “The Adder” - while one feels sorry for them, at least identification is relatively straightforward!
The problem with some of these names - e.g. Geelbos is that iNaturalist only lists six instances of the matches, so a novice will choose one of them unaware that the name is far more widespread. Deleting some of them as inappropriate only makes the matter worse as those options will then never show.
One of the problems with that approach is that common names, being common names, are very often repeated in different areas for different species.
My feeling on the common name issue is that everyone needs to chill out about them.
They’re going to be messy, they’re going to be repetitive, they’re going to conflict with each other, they’re going to be inappropriate, and they’re going to be a headache. So what? That’s why we have binomials.
Let the wonderful messiness of real life not be a hindrance and something to fight over. Let the chaos that is common names exist and use the binomials when accuracy is needed.
Will this lead to misidentifications? Of course. That’s life.
Remember, the point of the whole iNat project is to make engagement with nature more accessible to the average person. We always need to keep this in mind. It may make things a bit frustrating and annoying for those of us who use iNat for more professional reasons, but that’s absolutely ok and all it means is paying a little extra attention. For me that’s a price well worth paying if it means that we get more people engaging with and appreciating the species we have on the planet.
Let common names be, and embrace the fact that there are so many. Each one tells a story about the people who coined it and their relationship with whatever species it’s applied to. That’s the point of common names, they’re a sort of cultural heritage, and sometimes a bit of mythology mixed in.
You want accuracy, use the binomials, but don’t expect the average person to use them as they have never had a reason to learn them. The people who engage with this site on a regular basis will eventually learn them, like all education, it’s a slow process, but a worthwhile one.
Common names can stir strong emotions sometimes, which I kind of understand actually, but this is a splendidly civil and enlightening conversation so far. Thank you, ant-people!
I agree that names that are definitely in use for a particular species should stay even if they are confusing; the key question is whether the common name really is associated with only the one species. Names in field guides should also remain even if they are potentially confusing I think, because people will look up the name they see elsewhere and expect it to refer to the same thing.
There does seem to be some latitude accepted especially in broader taxa (e.g. ‘Drone flies and Allies’ is not a real name for the subfamily Eristalinae, but a sort of summary of its contents), and I have seen places where I think e.g. ‘European’ or ‘American’ have been added to a species common name for clarity - to my mind that sort of tweaking doesn’t count as ‘making names up’ - so long as it remains recognisable. I admit that the extent of this is not clear in the guidelines.
It sounds like a good idea to use the plural of some of these very general names as the name of a broader taxon (e.g. Genus) so that the common name can still be found and include the correct species. Then even if the singular is added to the precise species at least both will come up with a search and potentially alert a user to the fact that there are very similar species. I won’t make a specific suggestion with respect to these ants, because I don’t know them.
“Little Black Ant” is a ridiculously common name for that species. Not adding it seems very foolish. There are plenty of other confusing names out there that we’re just stuck with, this one is no different.
Also, just because you don’t use common names doesn’t mean most users do - in fact the vast majority of users mostly or only use common names.
Lawn Daisy is an interesting one here because in the UK the plant is just “daisy”. The Plant Atlas calls it “Daisy”, NatureSpot calls it a “Daisy”, the RHS calls it a “daisy”, the one wildflower website I use calls it a “daisy”. Stop someone on the street and ask them what the white and yellow flower that grows in lawns is, and they’ll say “daisy” before backing away from you slowly.
There are other daisies, like the Seaside Daisy, Shasta Daisy, Oxeye Daisy… but Bellis perennis? That’s usually just the daisy. No adjectives.
And yet that gets removed because it’s deemed confusing - well, no, it’s what it’s called here! Most people here would probably work out “lawn daisy”, although “common daisy” is more common amongst places that do give it a two-word name… but both are still less common than just “daisy” here.
Yes, the guidelines specify that common names should not be created solely on iNat by iNaturalist users. So creating new combinations of names shouldn’t happen either.
I do think that prioritizing common names is a useful tool for reducing confusion. One of the main benefits of having common names is that it can allow users to find organisms. Keeping common names but deprioritizing them allows these users to still find organisms, while also reducing potential confusion.