Standardized Butterfly Names

Roger C. KENDRICK kendrick at
Sat Mar 28 16:00:03 EST 1998

Bart Vanholder wrote:
> At 17:53 27-3-98 -0900, Kenelm Philip wrote:
> >
> >       Wanda Dameron has created an interesting situation with regard
> >any older lepidopterists who prefer to use scientific names--they are
> Well, I'm not old (nor consider myself as such), but prefer the use of
> scientific names anyway. ...
I, too wouldn't count myself as old (not long joined the
thirty-something crew), but have to fall in favour of scientific names.
I learned all the vernacular names of the British butterflies long ago,
and still use them in preference to scientific names. The same applies
for the British moths, which I learned over the past eight years. I
still don't know all their scientific names, and so waste much time when
reading scientific journals (translating from scientific names I don't
know or can't remember). However, upon starting my research in Hong Kong
I was faced with butterflies and moth species that had more literature
in Chinese than in English. Not being exactly literate in Chinese, I
chose the scientific names (!!!) This has the added advantage that when
I'm communicating with local or international lepidopterists, they have
some idea as to what I'm rambling on about! None the less, I'm now quite
comfortable with well over 1000 scientific names, learned in less than a
year, and have the additional bonus that I'm able to get to grips with
the scientific literature, on a worldwide basis, much more quickly than
prior to knowing the scientific names of the Hong Kong moths.

My second and third examples refer to confusion caused by common names.
Whilst I totally agree that vernacular names are much more user
friendly, especially for the general public, anyone who wants to get a
feel for which species are closely related (i.e. which Family or genus
they belong to) can have quite a difficult time of things. 
For Family name confusion: in Britain there is a butterfly species
called the Marbled White. It isn't in Pieridae, but in Nymphalidae
(Satyrinae). Whilst this is a descriptive vernacular name, it could also
apply to several other species which have a white ground colour and have
marbled undersides to their wings - very confusing for beginners. (the
Orange Tip - whose female doesn't have an orange tip to its wing but
does have a marbled underside; and the very infrequent migrant to the
U.K., the Bath White - also marbled on the underside).
For species which are not always closely related, but the vernacular
names suggest thay might be (British vernacular names for moth species):
Dark Arches (Noctuidae, Ipimorphinae), Black Arches (Lymantriidae),
Least Black Arches (Noctuidae: Nolinae).

In short, I would rather learn one set of names that is understood
worldwide (although subject to the vagueries of synonymy) than many sets
of names in possibly several unfamiliar languages that leave many
possibilites for confusion, especially when local vernacular names are
often unpublished. I do agree, however, with Anne K. that the use of
both scientific and vernacular names for each species (where both exist)
would enhance accessibility to all interested parties.

happy leps. watching,

Roger C. KENDRICK   B.Sc.(Hons.)
PhD student & Demonstrator, Dept of Ecology & Biodiversity
The University of Hong Kong
mailto:kendrick at   « Hong Kong Moths »   « H.K. Lepidoptera
Group »
mail: Kadoorie Agricultural Research Centre
      The University of Hong Kong
      Lam Kam Road, Shek Kong,
      Yuen Long, New Territories
      Hong Kong
fax: (852) 24885285

More information about the Leps-l mailing list