What's in a name: Red-spotted Purple/White Admiral and their kin

Michael Gochfeld gochfeld at eohsi.rutgers.edu
Sat Apr 27 21:06:02 EDT 2002

Dear Barb,

The Northeast is indeed a land of confusion. When I was 11 I first went to Boy
Scout camp in the Adriondacks, and collected some butterflies. The commonest
(or at least the most conspicuous butterfly) was called the White Admiral by
local naturalists who introduced me to many different aspects of unfamiliar
flora and fauna. .  I was very disturbed to find that my little Golden Guide
referred to it as the Banded Purple, and it took some time (years) to reconcile
the discrepancy.

White Admiral it has always been, for me, and in our book the species entry is
given as "Red Spotted Purple and White Admiral" , even though the latter may
not truly occur. .

It would be far better for all of us if these two butterflies would simply
agree not to intergrade and declare that they are separate species after all.

Although I am not likely to adopt the name Red-spotted Admiral (anymore than
you'll ever hear me say Yellow-rumped Warbler), I don't think that priority has
any  bearing on English names.  The oldest name is not necessarily going to

I do agree that it would be desirable to have a widely available checklist of
subspecies (if they would just stand still long enough to be documented).
However, the NABA list may pretty well serve its purpose for amateurs.  After
all the AOU Checklist intended MAINLY FOR PROFESSIONALS no longer lists
subspecies and the plan to produce a second volume with subspecies has
apparently been abandoned.

I think that the way out of the bind is to have local groups develop
supplementary checklists of forms of local interest and maintain the data on
them (even if it doesn't get into the Fourth of July Count volumes).  We try to
do that in NJ with several taxa of interest.

Mike Gochfeld

PS: Which form occurs in Albert and do you by the disruptive vs mimetic


Barb Beck wrote:

> Michael,
> L. arthemis is NOT a Red-spotted Purple.
> The oldest name for the species is WHITE ADMIRAL that is the the species L.
> arthemis arthemis.  By the NABA rules of nameing all other butterflies on
> their list you should be referring to Red-spotted Purple as "Red-spotted
> Purple" White Admiral just as we must refer to many of our subspecies and
> some species which the NABA refuses to name.  This would not sit well with
> the Mass and NJ leps people (the naming committee has two people from MASS
> NABA, Glassberg and Swengel- all four from the NE US) so they took the name
> they wanted.  Guess the rest of North America can handle confusion in the
> names of our butterflies but those in the NE US cannot!
> Barb Beck
> Edmonton


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