Common Names for subspecies?? Ron Gatrelle and RJP

Bob Parcelles,Jr. rjparcelles at
Sat Mar 30 09:55:20 EST 2002

[[[[Editors Note from RJP for NP members.]]]]

Ladies and gentlemen, we are going into a new thread on the above two
listserves as Ron gatrell defends several rather satirical "attacks"
on his desire to standardise common names even for subspecies of
butterflies. This reply by him will go down in butterfly annals as
visionary idea and accomplishment...YOU WERE THERE!. Ron is the great
LIBERAL...the cutting edge of Lepidoptery. He takes the "rough
drafts" of the newcomer, innovator, and radical Jeffrey Glassberg and
edits, refines and polishes them for consumption by lepidopterists. 

By the way your editor-in-chief puts in his two cents worth. Have a
great weekend...ALL.

From: "Ron Gatrelle" <gatrelle at> 
Subject: A reply on common names 
To: "Leps-l" <Leps-l at> 
CC: "TILS group" <TILS-leps-talk at> 
Reply-to: Ron Gatrelle <gatrelle at> 
Organization: TILS 

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 
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

Over just one decade all that changed.  Great Spangled 
Fritillary is now
about _all_ that is seen or read - for all of those _very 
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 
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 
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 
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 
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 many 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

"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(y) 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 
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 
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 

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 

Ron Gatrelle


Excellent,this is a well thought-out reply to the on and off line
comments about your subspecific common names. There is nothiing said
I could say any any better. 

I would, however, like to make just a few points.

Firstly, I am amazed at the "growth" you have displayed in
understanding the phenomiena taking place as regards to Lepidoptery.
I mean this in all respects with the utmost in respect. You and TILS
are taking the hobby and science, right along with NABA (You can deny
it folks all you want, but it is a done deal...grab a paddle or start
swimming)and the lepidopteran societies. Very possiblely you will
become an historical figure. Part of being a scientist is having your
legacy. That is why most publish if you really put the "shrink" to
the whole thing. With the internet that is made much easier. Does it
not give me "goose bumps" when I type Bob parcelles, Jr. into Google
and get thousands of hits. People ask for Nature Potpourri's website
and I just send them to google and if the can't spell Nature
Potpourri (don't laugh I misspelled it on the site the first week) I
just say in my best "lets do lunch sometime" voice "put my name in
any search engine and click on the site when it shows up" :). But
egos aside, your response to the satire posted in response to your
"assuming the role" of satisfying up a need in nomenclature has been
very direct. 

Secondly, while it appears that common names have been a dumbing down
thing, it is only a stage. In "birding" (why do I prefer the term
birdwatching for the non-competitive, non-sport genreric) the more
involved one gets the more the id and naming of subspecies comes into
play. Some say they are a temporary thing. That is true. But in the
context of human life spans so are species. It is dynamic whatever
the taxa. Ornithologists, like myself who specialize in behavior and
ecology, must work on the subspecies level or our data is flawed. My
favorite ongoing project has been subspeciation in Yellow Warblers
(Dendroica petechia). There are currently 43 of them divided in three
groups. In this case the common name Golden applies to a group of
subspecies. Particularly significate is the fact that because of
migration some of these populations are sharing winter habitat.
Incidentaly, without collecting this work would never have been
manifested by any of the researchers. There is nothing wrong with
assigning common names to subspecies. They are as subject to change
as any bi or tri nominals are. In all taxa genera are always being
reviewed and name changes proposed. Ron's explantaions for his work
can "smarten" not "dumb down" the vast hordes of lepsters JG has
turned loose on the lands in search of butterflies. So be it, and so
it is good. Anti-collecting bias is certanily not good for science,
whether it be ornithology or entomology. Nor is it necessary for
these bugs to be completely non-consumptive. I like the idea of a
freckle-faced kid chasing a butterfly with a net and his binoculars
waving side to side to side against his chest. 
I just wished they tasted better!

The last point is the aknowledgement of the role that the common name
for the subspecies thomasi has played in its recognition and the lack
of in its demise... The MIami Blue Butterfly

Bob Parcelles, Jr.
Director, Miami Blue Butterfly Restoration Project


Bob Parcelles, Jr
Pinellas Park, FL
RJP Associates, C2M-BWPTi
rjparcelles at
"Change your thoughts and you change your world."
- Norman Vincent Peale

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