Standardized Butterfly Names

Dr. James Adams jadams at
Mon Mar 30 10:19:30 EST 1998

Dear listers,

           Here's my two cents worth:

Scientific names, as has been pointed out, serve as both an
international communication tool and as a phylogenetic tool, 
indicating perceived relationships between a given species and 
others, and will therefore *be subject to change* as we increase our  
knowledge of the species in question.  We hope that, as knowledge     
increases that we will move toward a more stable nomenclature.  
Little wonder that popular and widespread species have been "named"   
numerous times by many scientific workers (which, of course, is the   
same reason why these species also have several common names).  This 
happens much more infrequently now as technology allows for the 
dissemination of information much more rapidly, and newly described 
species are therefore much less likely to be described numerous 
times.  There will *always* be some disagreement, as we are dealing 
with *human beings' perceptions* of the "real" world, and, of course, 
different humans have different perceptions.  (Also be aware 
that a *stable* nomenclature is somewhat of a fairy tale, as species 
are not *static*.  Come back 100,000 years from now and you would 
find that a lot of the species names, assuming descendents lived that 
long, would probably not be applicable any more to the critters in 

       I have no problem with common names -- they have their place, 
especially in communicating with the public.  But I prefer the use of 
scientific names, simply because there is little ambiguity when 
talking with people from around the world (and for those species 
where ambiguity exists, there are at least ways of finding synonyms, 
etc.).  Perhaps most important to me is that, in the world of leps, 
there are so many species *without* common names that if I wanted to 
talk to other people about them, I could not do so without the 
scientific name.  And there would seem to be little reason to give 
many species a common name, as the general public would never even be 
aware of the existence of most of these species.  Ask any worker in 
some of the Microlepidoptera groups where there are large numbers of 
little gray and brown moths in some genera.  Why even take the time 
to give a common name to these species when only specialists are 
interested and only the specialists can tell them apart?!


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