Species Only Common Name Causes Misidentifications - What to do?

Coming off of a discussion on this observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/85273529

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Agree with you, they can look up Flesh Fly topic where it all was discussed. Evey used common name is good, part of guidelines that say about being specific means don’t put high level names to species.


I looked up that flesh fly topic (https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/changing-common-names-common-flesh-fly/11255) and will note that this very species was discussed and it seemed to have been concluded that “Aster Leafminer” was best kept as a name. I welcome more discussion here but I’m readding the name now.

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I agree with ceiseman. If a common name is “in use”, that does not mean it SHOULD be used. It means it MAY be used. In other words, the “in use” criterion is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for usage on iNat.

There are many bad common names “in use”. IMO, no common name is better than a bad common name. The latter leads to errors.


I’d be fine dropping this name because of the following criteria:

  1. The name is new and barely established. Other “sources” using this name copied it from the original use. That doesn’t mean it should be given benefit of the doubt.
  2. The name has no unique specification to one species over 40 or more others, which are closely related. It was arbitrarily added to one taxon with no specific basis.
  3. There is no evidence this name has practical use or benefit. If anything, someone using this name will use it to assume their aster leaf mine is that one species.
  4. Several past instances of this, for instance “common green lacewing”, a European species being applied to American, Australian and Asian specimens with the sole reasoning of the common name have resulted in an agreement to drop the common name.
  5. It is ok to have no common names for complex groups whereby the individual members have no defining characters that could form common names. This is clearly one of them.

Amendment: in the cases where a solution was reached, it was almost always far more feasible to have a common name on the genus or otherwise umbrella taxon for all the involved species. Since “aster” leaf miners are across multiple genera, there is no application for this common name in an efficient way.


I think nearly everyone on that flesh fly thread would disagree with #4.

I completely agree that it is okay for species to not have common names! But of they have one, it should be on iNat, no matter how practical it is or is not.

Could the strikethrough on the name be removed? If the conclusion is reached that the name should be deleted, the name should be removed, not given a strikethrough. For now I think we should keep the name but remove the strikethrough until a conclusion (whatever it may be) is reached.

Disagree. A bad common name that is not in general use should not be added to iNat.

It is in use though.


It isn’t the first result that comes up when you google ‘aster leafminer’; the first is a moth Leucospilapteryx venustella, then something about calcomyza humeralis, then an article claiming that in 1948 ‘Aster Leaf Miner’ - Liriomyza flaveola - was the only economically important aster leaf miner in Los Angeles, then a bug guide result for Bucculatrix staintonella. So it seems like the term ‘aster leafminer’ is best described as being in common use to the extent that it describes any leaf miner which affects asters, not necessarily for calcomyza humeralis specifically.


I’d forgotten (if I saw that comment before) that the name appears on ITIS. Definitely doesn’t change my opinion about keeping the name though. I just checked under Calycomyza humeralis, and quickly found an example of the kind of misidentification this leads to:

This name isn’t in use in reference to a specific species. I agree entirely with Charlie’s points in the observation.

inat lists many Calcomyza spp. GBIF spp. info pages list hosts for some, but others have none known, citing Lonsdale O. (2021). Manual of North American Agromyzidae (Diptera, Schizophora). It lists:

C. solidaginis: “Asteraceae - Erigeron glabellus, Solidago, Canadanthus modestus, Symphyotrichum ciliolatum.” C. humeralis: “Asteraceae - Aster L. (cultivated varieties), Baccharis, Bellis, Bellium…” At least one other spp. has a host in a different family. inat lists another with a common name: Mallow Leaf Miner (C. malvae). It’s unclear what source that’s from. Bug guide (BG) lists only the scientific name, with “Explanation of names: From the host plant genus Malva (mallow).” So, the common name was potentially inferred from the sci. name, which may be a common way they’re created in general.

Aster leafminer potentially could be based on Aster (genus) and/or having many/more Asteraceae hosts than other spp. It also seems one of the most common spp. in inat obs. Common spp. tend to be better-described, and more often have common names. ITIS cites Stoetzel, 1933. If that’s Manya Brooke Stoetzel, the year is wrong. I can’t find the publication on Google Scholar (maybe from 1970s-1990s), but others could try.

Re: other spp. appearing in aster leafminer search results:

Since multiple kinds of insects are leafminers, names including leafminer aren’t necessarily misleading if the order is distinguished/known. Leucospilapteryx venustella is named “aster leafminer moth.” For Liriomyza flaveola, the title of the article is aster leafminer, which could suggest a name, but they don’t refer to it by common name on the first page at least. BG doesn’t give a name to the moth Bucculatrix staintonella, it names section II of it’s genus aster and mint leafminers (“Species have hosts in Asteraceae” with a few exceptions).

I suggest keeping “aster leafminer” at least until the original naming and how descriptive it is can be determined. I don’t think names should change due to misidentifications unless they’re very misleading, including for spp. named “common.” Identifiers shouldn’t guess, most will learn not to rely on common names over time, and they shouldn’t mistake it as the only leafminer since the family is named leafminers.

Sometimes common names can change in sources, e.g. some bees on BG. I’d say if inat ever decided to change in-use common names in a similar manner, it should be close to the original, descriptive, cite relevant sources, be where the original was vague or misleading, typically shouldn’t change to no name, many people should agree, and enough time should be given to discuss/research before making the change. I recommend this for taxon changes likely to be contested in general. For here, I also think aster leafminer fly could work (if it were agreed on by many), although don’t think it’s needed.

I have come across a number of these situations (mostly not on iNaturalist though) and I think the most important consideration for these sorts of names is @silversea_starsong’s second point:

Most of these names are in common usage and for that reason I think that they should stay on iNat, but in the vast majority of cases the common name is not used for one species but for a group of species that are all similar. A website or guide book may include one species out of a few hundred that look similar, and they are generally obliged to supply a common name of some sort to help people out. But when that name is used in the community it is used for ALL of the similar species, not just one single one. The common names tend to get used for a much broader taxonomic spread than just the single species that they were originally assigned to, and for that reason their usage here on iNat should reflect that. In this case it is not so simple because leafminers are a rather polyphyletic group, but if it was just a single genus for example, then the name “Aster Leafminer” should be used for the genus here on iNat because that is how the name is used in the community. If the species cannot be distinguished easily then any sort of common name used outside of a specialised context is very obviously used for more than one species even if certain guide books or websites may only use it for a single species.

The other problem with common names is that people can be offended by them. I won’t name any here, but there are at least 3 common names that have been deleted from iNat in the last month or so even though on the taxon page (sourced from Wikipedia) the deleted common names are prominently displayed. Of those 3, I deleted one (even though it’s still on the taxon page under about) and tried to defend another. For the one I deleted I was chastised for being too hasty. For the second one, a few weeks later, I was chastised for trying to defend it. In both cases the common names could be regarded as offensive by some people. So it’s a no win situation. Delete, bad. Defend, bad. In both situations I tried to be neutral but clearly that strategy didn’t work for me. So I simply won’t engage in conversations of that sort anymore because no matter what decision is made someone will complain and I end up feeling stressed and unwell. Maybe a better solution would be to not allow common names for ID, but that might exclude a whole heap of IDs and make an unnecessary barrier. I don’t know.

In the sense of leaf miners, “aster” leaf miner is about equivalent to the use of “common”. Aster refers (broadly) to Asteraceae, which is a family with a great diversity of species and associated mining insects. As such, the concept of an asteraceous leafminer is so frequent that it might as well be a synonym of “common leafminer”. Even though it could be used to just refer to the genus Aster, that’s a bit of a messy application since it only represents a very small fraction of the involved host plants.

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I personally find the idea of allowing all names, including impractical names, a bit chaotic. Granted, I’m usually in support of “archiving” all existing common names on iNat, so it’s not common that I’m against the use of one. The only time I am is when it’s a poorly supported name that’s too ambiguous to use, e.g. 1 species out of 10, 15 or more that are equally “common” or share the generic features used to establish 1 single common name.

But by your logic, I could just make up a common name for another species tomorrow and it feels like you’d be likely to defend its use. That’s not the problem of the topic at hand admittedly, though it’s always worth considering for discussion purposes whenever this subject comes up.

Common names are being “made up” all over the place to not offend people. I’d just delete them altogether especially when the offensive common name is in the about tab of the taxon page. I don’t think making up common names serves any purpose except to cause confusion.

I absolutely agree with you!

@matthew_connors @silversea_starsong I gave a review of what I found looking into the name above. As stated, not all of species in the genus have Asteraceae hosts, and for some no host was listed. For those with hosts, some varied. For one the latin species name refers to Goldenrods. For another, Mallow.

As for the aster leafminer species, I partly speculating suggested it might refer specifically to Aster, which was listed first in it’s host list on GBIF (unlike many if not all the other related spp.). It specifically says cultivated varieties, so possibly the name origin relates to damage to cultivated Aster. The last scenario I gave for how the name may have meaning, is if it meant it’s even more of a specialist of Asteraceae (more plants in that family) compared to other spp.

I’m open to the possibility the name may turn out to have little meaning too. I just meant we don’t fully know yet, without looking at the original source and comparing the hosts of different species in the genus more. I consider it an open question, and suggest keeping the name for now, at least until it’s been looked into further.

As for the genus, I’d be fine (whether or not) it were called leafminers too. I think the family already is. I don’t see a name at one taxon rank necessarily as a contradiction to the species having a similar name. Also, I made a minor point that a more common species is more likely to have a common name or some significance/interaction with society (e.g. cultivated plants), and so in some cases commonness may actually justify getting a common name.

Lastly, I don’t mean I’m completely open to any new name being added or deleted. I suggest staying as close to in-use current names as possible typically. I do think when warranted, some changes are justified. Including if the community here cites enough evidence/rationale, it can make sense to change some names sometimes. Although I’d just heard of this current aster leafminer question, to me the decision on it seems slightly rushed. I’ve also seen taxon changes where it’s not entirely clear the change is valid, seem to be completed in a rushed manner. I prefer a longer review/discussion typically. Overall, this has brought up a good topic to discuss/learn though.