A reply on common names

Andrew Warren warrena at mail.science.orst.edu
Sat Mar 30 02:11:57 EST 2002

WOW!!!  Thanks so much Ron!!!  What a great service you are providing by 
sharing your unequaled knowledge with all of us who didn't
know that all of those critters existed.  All of us
ignorant butterfly lovers would be totally lost without your careful


On Sat, 30 Mar 2002, Ron Gatrelle wrote:

> I received a nicely toned personal note on the common names which was
> somewhat in disagreement.  I have taken that note as a spring board to
> editorialize.  Only part of the note is quoted and the sender is anonymous
> as this response is partially to a straw man.  I use all caps only to
> emphisize a word - it is not "yelling".
> ___________________________________
> Hey- The irony is that up until about a year ago I was a strong _opponent_
> of
> common names for several reasons.  Echoing the very thoughts you stated
> above at times.  We already have a full compliment of names (scientific)
> which are the correct ones anyway - so why have a duplicate set?  I
> personally seldom use common names - in fact most of the old line
> traditional lepidopterists didn't use them at all or not more than about
> 20% of the time and that was in personal conversation.
> My "conversion" was in realizing that my "problem" was not with common
> names - it was with their usage.  Actually, their lack of usage.  Decades
> ago when I was introduced to leps scientific names were all anyone used and
> always to subspecies. That was the entry level.  That was _common_
> knowledge.   The following critters were know as, and referred to as,
> cybele, novascotiae, krautwurmi, pseudocarpenteri, carpenteri, charlottii,
> letona, pugetensis, leto.  (This was true for all the species groups of
> butterflies.)
> Over just one decade all that changed.  Great Spangled Fritillary is now
> about _all_ that is seen or read - for all of those _very different_
> subspecific organisms.  In all my years I had only (and do only) employed
> that vernacular name to -cybele.  And why write a capitalized three word
> semi-sentence - Great Spangled Fritillary - when cybele does fine?  (The
> utility in this is evidenced by my now seeing cybele referred to at times
> in watcher lists as GSF along with the SSS - Silver-spotted Skipper and
> LBJ -Little Brown Job - which is everything small, brown and thus unknown.)
> My knowledge of the history of scientific names lets me know that one of
> the main reasons the "system" came about in the first place was to bring
> accuracy and simplicisity to the system of "common" names that was in place
> in 1700. "Rose That Grows in Ireland And Is White" - became simply Rosa
> alba.  We have
> gone intellectually backwards almost 300 years!
> Yes, I saw common names as a huge step backwards.  Then the light went on.
> It was not the names -  it was the lack of them.   A new movement had come
> along and it pretty much only wanted to use vernacular names -- well there
> weren't vernacular names for all the critters we _commonly_ knew WELL as
> krautwurmi or pseudocarpenteri or smilacis.   In this shift in nomenclature
> the _majority_ of all well known butterflies disappeared almost overnight.
> The domino effect was that the new generation lost the knowledge of them -
> the uniqueness of them - the appreciation of them - the VALUE of them.   It
> is no wonder that to many of the New Butterflyers the attitude toward
> butterfly subspecies is - what is that?  Who need them?   We have been set
> back 200 years in our knowledge level.
> Common names are not a problem at all.  The lack of an identity is.
> Anything without a unique idenitiy - remains unknown to humanity.  All of
> our endangered "species" of butterflies are _subspecies_, and how
> interesting, each has its own unique vernacular name.  But had the
> traditional lepidopterists not given them scientific recognition as
> subspecies through real research and publication of their scientific
> identification (names), they wouldn't exist in the realm of knowledge and
> would thus not be protected.
> You said
> >>>Most people will not id a specimen to the subspecies level based on
> diagnostic characters, they will say "this is the subspecies that is found
> here so it must be that subspecies". This is no better than using the
> species name because the same info is communicated. If a subspecies is
> fairly easy to determine common names make sense but if not what good are
> they?? I can understand that you are interested in subspecies but  the bird
> watcher-butterfly watcher will just use geography to id his specimen to the
> subspecies level. I am not saying the above will be true 100% of the time
> but maybe 80%. <<<<
> You are correct because most will not collect them to check these
> characters. Who has taught them this way of doing things?  I do not believe
> that the above is the shallow methodology of older or traditional birders.
> I think they pay a great deal of attention to subtle diagnostic
> characters - including voice.  Good birders don't just say, well we are in
> Ohio so it must be X - or do they?    Traditional lepidopterists _only_ use
> diagnostic characters -- that is the main reasons we collect them - to
> determine what they are by a close examination of their characters.  This
> is why we keep harping on "sight" records.  One can't tell many
> species just by a glance.  (The writer informed me in another post that
> this was his main point - if they have a hard time with sight IDing of
> species they will really have a hard time with subspecies.)  You say you
> are into micro-moths.  Then you know that with may species of moths not
> only is collection necessary but dissection.
> You said, "If a subspecies is fairly easy to determine common names make
> sense."  Thank you, exactly.  To experienced lepidopterists,  they are
> fairly easy (because we were weaned on them from the begining).  To many
> others, I have shown them a morpho in my collection and they all said
> something like "oh we used to have that one growing up in Illinois".   I'll
> never forget how stupified I was the first time I heard that!   The degree
> of subjectivity in your statment is immeasurable.  It assumes stupidity -
> and thus glorifies ignorance.  The guy next door to me doesn't "see"
> (determine) a difference between an Eastern Cloudless Sulphur and an
> Eastern Tiger Swallowtail -or- a Phoebis sennae eubule and a Papilio
> (Pterourus) glaucus glaucus.  (By the way, his hobby is photographing
> "nature".)   I was out in the field the other day and a guy stopped to ask
> what I was doing with my net.   He said he hadn't seen a butterfly all
> spring!  I had already seen about 15 species that day by _his_ farm.
> Determine?  No one will ever determine/discern anything (in any area of
> life) until the SEE the need to.
> "If subspecies... easy to determine."   First one has to know that there is
> something that requires determination before an effort will be made to do
> so.  When some people visit the SC-NABN common names lists the first thing
> they will say is WOW!!!   Where did all these critters come from!   Why,
> these lists are 10 times as long as the naba or usgs "check lists".  I
> never knew all these things existed!!   Why aren't they in any of my Field
> guides.  WOW!!!   I'm going to go to the used book store (or web site) and
> look for a 1951 Peterson Field Guide on butterflies by Klots.  Try to find
> Scott's book on North American Butterflies.  Join the Lepidopterists
> Society.  Get that book on British Columbia butterflies - yah - that's the
> kind of thing I _need _!   And a net!
> AHHHH now we come to the _real_ reason some of us think this has all been
> dumbed down.  The logical conclusion of where curiosity will lead.  --
> COLLECTING --.  Well the cat is out of the bag - we had 1,252 hits on the
> common names section just _yesterday_ so someones are definitely
> interested.  "If subspecies... easy to determine."   Yes, the old *if* -
> *then* principle.  *If* you build it *then* they will come.   If they have
> names then they will know they are there - and collect them too.  Keep out
> the names - you keep out the collectors.  Make more laws and restrictions
> and they will really be kept out.  It will only cost the sacrifice of
> knowledge - and that is preferred over the "sacrifice" of butterflies.  But
> there are not enough "professionals" in the Museums to find, document, and
> protect all the thousands of -subspecies- still unknown in this world.  The
> anti-knowledge over-regulated Dark Age we are now in will only insure more
> invertebrates go undetected, undescribed, and unprotected.
> I am a butterfly conservationist - which is why I want people to know they
> exist explicitly - this blue has a name - the Miami Blue.   It is a
> subspecies.  If the masses in Florida, esp.Miami, don't do something it
> will be gone.  If they  had KNOWN about it it would not be in crisis.  They
> would have stopped the guy in the State Park or Hwy. dept. with the
> weed-eater whacking down the balloon vine and say hey,  that's the home of
> OUR Miami Blue.  What's wrong with you people - are you brain dead.  Even
> with a common name this one is not making it. But if it had none it would
> be much much more apt to continue on its way into extinction.
> So is that Imperial Moth in the northeastern US a subspecies or not?  It
> has a subspecific name - but no common one.  I bet if if was know as the
> New York Imperial it would get some attention in the Empire State.
> Ron Gatrelle
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