Scientific & Common Names: One Perspective in Practice
When I became editor of The Maryland Entomologist in 2007, I was aware of the diverse backgrounds of the membership of the Maryland Entomological Society. Members ranged from government and university researchers and taxonomists to hobbyists to the general public. I wanted the journal to be as user-friendly as possible for all of the parties. Scientific names are ALWAYS used, including the species authors. If a species has a common name, it is included as well. My first choices for acceptable common names are the Entomological Society of America’s (ESA’s) Common Names of Insects Database, the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), and the USDA-NRCS’s PLANTS Database. My second choices are field guides (which can disagree with each other) and other books in print. Distant third choices, obtained from the internet, are only occasionally used and often can be a bit tenuous. Like it or not, insect field guides are increasingly being produced to keep up with the public’s thirst for insect identification resources. I find it a bit disconcerting that field guides appear to be taking the lead on common names rather than specific taxon-oriented entomological organizations.
I should mention that I disagree with two of ESA’s conventions. I am a firm believer that “officially-recognized” insect common names should be capitalized. When a common name is capitalized, you know that a specific species is being discussed. When a common name is not capitalized, there is ambiguity as to whether the discussion is about a specific species or whether the discussion concerns various insects that possess a certain morphological or ecological character, e.g., “Brown Stink Bug”, Euschistus servus (Say), versus “brown stink bug” which could be any number of brown-colored stink bug species. I also believe in hyphenating combined words (e.g., “Two-spotted” versus “Twospotted”).
When I conduct native bee surveys on private or public properties, I always provide a summary list to the land owner or manager. In almost all cases, the owners or managers have no familiarity with native bees. The summary list includes scientific names for all species, and common names for the few species that have them. If a species does not have a common name (capitalized), I provide a general category for the bee (uncapitalized), e.g., Bombus fervidus (Fabricius), Yellow Bumble Bee, versus Lasioglossum nelumbonis (Robertson), a sweat bee. This provides the landowner or manager with more manageable information. From the list, they can readily see that they have 5 species of bumble bees, 15 species of sweat bees, etc. This educates them that there are many types of bees. Whether the owner has a cursory interest in the data or a more management-oriented interest, the list gets them started in understanding the different types of bees and gives them a baseline from which they can work if individual species or groups of species are to be managed.
Editor, The Maryland Entomologist & the Phaëton