Common Names for subspecies?? Ron Gatrelle and RJP

Michael Gochfeld gochfeld at
Sat Mar 30 17:06:46 EST 2002

However you may want to describe Glassberg, "newcomer" is certainly
He has been involved with Leps longer than a lot of people on these
lists, and much longer than the mere 10-15 years that NABA has been


"Bob Parcelles,Jr." wrote:

> [[[[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
> _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 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
> 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(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
> 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
> #####################################################################
> Ron,
> 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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