Removing existing common names that are deemed confusing

With something like birds, where the vast majority of species actually have a common name in most areas, I entirely agree. However, with something like ants, with tens of thousands of species existing and only a small handful having common names, many of them cannot be consistently helpful. What does the name little black ant serve to someone learning, when there’s a dozen near-identical species they’d have to learn as well, all of which only have scientific names?

Same point as above. Not with all taxa. Most people uploading ants are usually clicking on the CV suggestions or googling something and pulling a name from a pest service website that has the first vaguely right-looking answer. And the identifiers obviously do not rely on the common names because you can’t when they they don’t exist for most species (and I can also say that with confidence as I know them).

I do have to wonder: what is the logic behind a “valid source” for common names? With something like the ESA, I don’t think they’re actually coming up with the names most of the time, they’re probably just trying to find some name rather than none and listing it, so it could be coming from any random source. And common names pop up colloquially; if a group of people on iNat have a nickname for a species, why is their name not a valid source, but some name on any other site is fine? I think some common names on BugGuide for example are made up by people there (not really being found elsewhere), so how is that any different than people on iNat creating a name when we are allowed to use the BugGuide name? If me and some other people interested in ants create our own website, and add our own names, can we then reference the site and add the names to iNat? I’ve also seen some names that have been crafted on iNat, lasted for a while, and then have begun being used on other sites; are those names now valid because they have external sources? I get the point of avoiding making new names, but I feel like that rule emphasizes the fact that having a common name is not always better than lacking one, which I think is also a logical reason for some common names’ removal/adaptation. I think that if the community committed to a taxon wants to improve it by creating a better, more suitable name, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with it as long as there’s consensus and the taxon is still findable by its older name(s).

You can’t just add “daisy,” because you have to consider iNat is a global site (this is also in the rules and I think a very logical one). It’s inconsiderate and problematic to add the name “daisy” to a dozen species just because each one of those species is simply referred to as “daisy” within their ranges. Also, when people say something like “daisy,” they’re usually not referring to a specific species anyways, just a flower with a certain appearance which could represent any level of taxa. Imagine if we added the name “black ant” and “red ant” to thousands of ant species because people refer to them as that, that would accomplish nothing and be unfathomably confusing.


It works with any taxa, it’s much easier to learn a moth name if it’s a normal human phrase and not something like bulgruachxis shiffiamitea. We don’t live in a world where a locality has thousands of ant species at the time, language won’t need names for all species, only those that live where those people live.
Not to mention scientists who use latin actually create common names out of them, I hardly ever hear anyone pronouncing the whole names, and if name isn’t great for that personally I have my own names for them, Gastrodes grossipes is a pine brown bug and Gastrodes abietum is a spruce bug for me, I’m not gonna refer to them with their latin names even though I remember them from adding many observations.

1 Like

That there is the problem. We need many more second tier identifiers who can do that ‘cleanup on aisle 3’ once a scientist has pointed out the confusion.

Again. Somewhere newbies have to start. To learn that for example ‘moss’ isn’t one thing, that it is a broad group once you start looking into details.

Absolutely anything named “Common ____” is going to be selected as the identification. Changing those would be good – but they probably are commonly used common names.

I’d like to see the name “Methuselah’s beard” disappear. It’s commonly used for any long pale lichen (usually an Usnea) and causes misidentifications.


Afraid this is incorrect for the UK - “daisy” without further elaboration in the UK almost always refers to Bellis perennis - NatureSpot, the BRC’s Plant Atlas, NBNAtlas - all just call it “Daisy” (and NBN doesn’t even give synonyms, unless you’re speaking Welsh!). There are other “daisies” like Michaelmas Daisies and Oxeye daisies, but they’re almost never just “daisies”.

I have always wondered where a lot of common names for insects and arachnids on this site come from. Some seem to be made up in guides (Steven Falk does this for flies a lot - but he gets a pass because he’s written so much about them, I say) and once you leave more “conspicuous” things like butterflies, macro-moths and larger spiders it’s often quite hard to find common names on iNaturalist that are used outside of very few places - occasionally, not at all. Or uncommon names, if you will.


Absolutely, in the UK ‘Daisy’ refers to Bellis perennis; there are many species of daisies, but the only one referred to as ‘daisy’ without a qualifier (verbal or contextual) is Bellis perennis. ‘Lawn daisy’ is unheard of (to me at least). Perhaps that’s not the case elsewhere. Two things I would reflect on the example though:

  1. this is why it is possible to set ranges for common names. I wouldn’t recommend changing ‘Lawn daisy’ to just ‘daisy’ without checking that that’s ok elsewhere. But someone could set it to that just for the UK - I wouldn’t mind but

  2. sometimes I think it’s good to leave a more qualified name from elsewhere in place where it is still recognisable, unlikely to cause much confusion, and it might even cause people to realise that ‘oh, there are other daisies’. No-one in the UK calls it a ‘lawn daisy’ to my knowledge, but I’m perfectly happy for ‘lawn daisy’ to stay as it is still recognisable. It was the same for ‘European Robin’, no problem with that, even though it’s now been changed to just ‘Robin’ in the UK. I generally advocate a relaxed and practical attitude to names (whatever that means!).

Nevertheless, common names are confusing sometimes, and we shouldn’t be trying to hide that confusingness. If a particular species is called ‘Little Black Ant’ in field guides and commonly in popular speech, then people will expect it to mean the same thing on iNaturalist: perhaps the Genus could be called ‘Little Black Ant and Allies…’ to flag up a potential issue, but we should be followers not leaders on this.

We have the same problem with Calliphora vicina (‘Common Bluebottle’ - at least in Europe), it makes a terrible mess beacuse it’s hard to identify. (One day I’ll pluck up the courage to do a ‘CV cleanup’ about it maybe…) But unfortunately… that just is what it’s called.


It would be good to have a flagging system - like a red exclamation mark in the ID suggestions - for species that are ‘commonly misidentified’, however that be defined. If there’s a feature request already I would like to vote for it!

EDIT: I found this which is similar but not automatic.


I know next to nothing of ants, but the situation in butterflies is worth mentioning for comparison. There, the common names of US butterflies are widely agreed upon (with outliers). But because of genetic studies, the scientific names are in considerable flux, going back about a decade.

So the common names are currently a bit of a lifeline for clear communication within the Lep community - we all know what a Crossline Skipper is, even if we don’t know whether it is in genus Limochores or genus Polites.


You mean, “increases the quality of life for the subset of users who get deep into ant taxomony.”

That’s another several discussion threads. But yet relevant – how many of these common names are “confusing” precisely because the species they used to mean has since been split into lots of lookalikes? The North American “fly agaric” may not be (anymore) considered the same species as the Eurasian one, but it has been “fly agaric” for a lot longer than it hasn’t been.

It serves as a category for those – as you admit – near-identical species. If we look at it from the other side, what does distinguishing between those species serve to anyone other than a taxonomist? If I have them living in my kitchen, will my relationship with them change by my knowing exactly which of those dozen near-identical species they are? If I am sufficiently interested in them to start watching their habits as they go about my kitchen, will I learn different things from one species than I would from another? Realistically, if I have no idea what they are – and I won’t have any idea, if the species are indistinguishable – I’m probably just going to refer to them as “little black ants” anyway, as a convenient, descriptive label.

Better: “Little Black Ants,” plural, since they all literally are.



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 :)

As an a identifier myself I think maintaining an accurate dataset is one of multiple purposes of iNat, it has never been my argument that data accuracy isn’t a valuable part of iNat


However, with something like ants, with tens of thousands of species existing and only a small handful having common names, many of them cannot be consistently helpful.

I believe common names are helpful for the small fraction of ants that are noticeable enough that a layperson or someone with a more casual interest in insects will notice them just looking at the ground in a park, ect, the same way common names are useful for any other species people notice. I don’t see how the existence of many obscure species that don’t need a common name is an argument against allowing the more prominent species to have common names

What does the name little black ant serve to someone learning, when there’s a dozen near-identical species they’d have to learn as well, all of which only have scientific names?

It tells that person that they are dealing with the same species that their field guides and the other websites they use refer to as “little black ant”.

I think this is a good argument for saying that “little black ant” in practice refers to the M. minimum species complex, and not any one species. We should also consider the fact that not every ant lives in every place, so ID does not generally require ruling out all ants known to science, just all ants in your area. I know my area isn’t the whole world, but I’'l use it as an example: where I live the M. minimum species complex is visually distinct from pretty much every other ant, nothing else with a glossy head, mesosoma, and gaster is pure black except for maybe a couple Formica, which are many times larger, and no other black ant is that small, so the combination of size <3 mm, all glossy, and all black, rules out everything else on sight, and most of the other small black ants here have a common name as well: pavement ant, odorous house ant, long-spined acorn ant, ect, so around here you really don’t need to know any scientific names to refer to the little black ant and it’s common lookalikes, unless you are trying to separate species within the M. mimimum species group


@Arman I see you also removed the common names from Lasius niger, I know a lot of sources call that the black garden ant, do you object to listing this name? or did you just remove it for not having a source?

I’m new to the forum so please correct me if there is a better place to bring up this kind of thing


Yes, for questions about specific taxa and names, these should be raised in flags on the taxa themselves on iNat.

Plenty of names don’t have sources as this function was only introduced recently, so not having a source listed on iNat should not be a criterion for removing a name.

In my opinion, common names should only be removed when there is clear evidence that they are harmful and/or evidence that they are spurious. If there’s any doubt, the name should remain. Ideally, name removals, in the few cases where they might be warranted, should have input from multiple curators and the individual who added the name if possible.


Wait, it’s possible to do that? Does that mean the common names will not be prioritized in searches if the user is in a different region?

I keep finding plants mis-ID’d as Laportea alatipes in the UK and have been puzzling over why people are choosing a not particularly distinctive plant that is endemic to Africa – until I realized that the English common name entered for it is “nettle”, so it is coming up in searches by users who actually want Urtica (nettle/stinging nettle) or occasionally Lamium (dead nettles) or Stachys (hedge nettles).

As a transplant from North America to Europe, I do appreciate the inclusion of qualifiers to common names in cases where the same name may refer to very different organisms depending on which side of the Pond one is on. The robin of my childhood is a thrush – more closely related to the blackbirds here (who in turn are not to be confused with North American blackbirds) than what is known in the UK as a robin.

(My personal solution to this admittedly rather idiosyncratic problem is to use iNat in German rather than English; it’s less disorienting.)


Yes. When you add a name to a taxon there is a section that reads

Places (optional)

Add a name to a place to give it priority for sites and users from that place. If there are multiple names per place you can prioritize them [here]. Please do not add names for EVERY place where the name is used, only for places that conflict with other places.

1 Like

If any sort of common name, effectively no matter how ridiculous, is mentioned I believe it should be added to iNat in some respect.


This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.