Common or vernacular names: the trivial epithet

Common or vernacular naming

It is an innate trait of humans to try to order the world around us. This is the case with all living things. In the 18th Century Carl Linneaus proposed a system of naming species that would allow the relationship between species to be indicated within the name. This binomial system of scientific, or Latin, naming has endured and evolved with strict rules. In the case of insects, the naming of species is overseen by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). Under the watchful eye of the ICZN all animal life is ascribed its binomial name and by such is given its place in the tree of life. As taxonomists better understand the boundaries between species and how those species relate to each other, the name may change but always in a manner that is both ordered and traceable.

Common names, also called vernacular names or trivial epithets, have their roots, not in science, but in social history. Trivial epithets are not set down in any international standards, nor are they in any way regulated. They do not come about as a result of any attempt to order or understand life and are entirely chaotic. The use of these trivial epithets in general is to be avoided when recording invertebrates.

As a rule, common names only exist were there has been a need for one person to convey recognition of a plant or animal to another person. A common name may reference a characteristic (e.g. Giant Horntail), habitat (e.g. Alder Wood-wasp) or geographic location of the species (e.g. Southern Hawker). A species will most likely have a common name if it fulfils one of the following criteria:

  • The species, or group of similar looking species, is common and frequently seen
  • The species, or group of similar looking species, is easily recognisable by eye
  • The species, or group of similar looking species, is perceived as a pest or nuisance
  • The species, or group of similar looking species, is charismatic, querky or has a specific habit or behaviour

Common names, despite their limitations, are to be valued if only as part of our cultural heritage. For example, woodlice (actually a number of different species) have over 40 common names in Britain alone. These names are part of a rich oral tradition and the name you use will likely indicate where in Britain you grew up. Occasionally, the common name may echo a point of scientific interest. For example, the Turnip Sawfly is the only common name used for Athalia rosae though most records these days would not reveal any association with turnips. The name is an echo of when Athalia rosae was a major pest of turnip crops when they were more widely grown as animal feed. The species came all but extinct in Britain in the early 20th Century before becoming widely distributed again in the latter part of the 20th Century but without the reliance on turnip crops.

More recently, there have been trends in attempting to assign common names to a wider range of species to engage public attention. This dilutes and muddies the oral tradition, though in instances where the species conforms to one of the above rules, there may be some merit in doing so. Perhaps a historically rare species has become common in recent times, or the species is newly arrived in the region and is a potential problem species (e.g. Zig-zag Sawfly). However, where a species is rarely encountered or recognised by the wider public, assigning common names is of little value as they are unlikely to be adopted and their use may even be an inconvenience to entomologists. Of concern is the fact that the same common name can refer to several distinct species. For example, “Birch Sawfly” is widely used to represent both Cimbex femoratus and Nematus septentrionalis. That trivial epithet also ignores the fact that there are 43 sawfly species in Britain and Ireland that feed on birches. Similarly, the same common name may be used in different countries for different species, which is a particular issue when using internet search engines.

One of the arguments put forward in favour of inventing new common names is that scientific names are too hard to remember. Certainly, trying to learn all the scientific names for a taxonomic group, such as the sawflies, in one go would be overwhelming. However, learning an individual species' name as it is encountered is often no more difficult than trying to remember a common name, and a species that is repeatedly encountered and identified soon has its scientific name tripping of the tongue. The invention of new trivial epithets is not to be encouraged. After all, in horticulture, gardeners readily use scientific names, at least in part, with ease (e.g. Rhododendron, Geranium, Salvia). Here the adoption by the hobbyist of the genus as a pseudo-common name is to be applauded.

Below are listed sawfly common names that appear to have become established over time. Only 43 species out of the 550 or so species present here appear to have established common names. Some common names that are peculiar to certain countries are included to illustrate some of the points above.

Common name order:

Alder Sawfly, Woolly Alder Sawfly

Eriocampa ovata

Alder Wood-wasp

Xiphydria camelus

Almond Sawfly

Cimbex quadrimaculatus

Apple Sawfly

Hoplocampa testudinea

Aruncus Sawfly

Euura spiraeae

Ash Sawfly

Tomostethus nigritus

Aspen Slug Sawfly

Caliroa tremulae

Banded Honeysuckle Sawfly

Abia fasciata

Banded Horntail

Urocerus flavicornis

Banded Rose Sawfly

Allantus cinctus

Berberis Sawfly

Arge berberidis

Birch Leafminer

Fenusa pumila

Birch Sawfly

Cimbex femoratus

Nematus septentrionalis

Black Grain-stem Borer

Trachelus tabidus

Blackberry Sawfly

Cladius brullei

Blackcurrant Sawfly

Euura olfaciens

Bramble Sawfly

Arge cyanocrocea

Common Gooseberry Sawfly

Euura ribesii

Common Pine Sawfly

Diprion pini

Curled Rose Sawfly

Allantus cinctus

Dock False-worm

Ametastegia glabrata

Dock Sawfly

Ametastegia glabrata

Elm Leafminer (USA)

Kaliofenusa ulmi

European Alder Leafminer (USA)

Fenusa dohrnii

European Pine Sawfly

Neodiprion sertifer

European Spruce Sawfly

Gilpinia hercyniae

Falsa Acacia Sawfly

Euura tibialis

Fern-stem Borer

Blasticotoma filiceti

Figwort Sawfly

Tenthredo scrophulariae

Geranium Sawfly

Ametastegia carpini

Geum Leafminer

Metallus lanceolatus

Giant Horntail

Urocerus gigas

Gooseberry Sawfly

Euura ribesii

Great Web‐spinning Pine Sawfly

Acantholyda posticalis

Greater Horntail Wasp

Urocerus gigas

Urocerus flavicornis

Green Alder Sawfly (USA)

Monsoma pulveratum

Honeysuckle Sawfly

Abia aenea

Abia lonicerae

Imported Pine Sawfly (USA)

Diprion similis

Iris Sawfly

Rhadinoceraea micans

Juniper Sawfly

Monoctenus juniperi

Large Alder Sawfly

Cimbex connatus

Lesser Horntail Wasp

Sirex noctilio

Loosestrife Sawfly

Monostegia abdominalis

Nursery Pine Sawfly (USA)

Gilpinia frutetorum

Oak Sawfly

Periclista lineolata

Oak Slug Sawfly

Caliroa annulipes

Caliroa cinxia

Oak Slugworm

Caliroa annulipes

Caliroa cinxia

Pale-spotted Gooseberry Sawfly

Euura leucotrocha

Parasitic Wood-wasp

Orussus abietinus

Pear and Cherry Slugworm

Caliroa cerasi

Pear Slug Sawfly

Caliroa cerasi

Pear-fruit Sawfly

Hoplocampa brevis

Pear-shoot Sawfly

Janus compressus

Pigeon Tremex

Tremex columba

Pine False Webworm (USA)

Acantholyda erythrocephala

Plum Sawfly

Hoplocampa flava

Hoplocampa fulvicornis

Plum-fruit Sawfly

Hoplocampa flava

Hoplocampa fulvicornis

Poplar Sawfly

Cladius grandis

Poplar Tree Blotch leaf-miner (Iran)

Fenusella hortulana

Privet Sawfly

Macrophya punctumalbum

Raspberry Leafminer (Germany)

Metallus albipes

Raspberry Leafminer (Netherlands)

Metallus pumilus

Raspberry Sawfly

Monophadnoides rubi

Raspberry Sawfly (Canada)

Cladius brullei

Red Pine Sawfly (USA)

Neodiprion sertifer

Red-headed Pine Sawfly

Acantholyda erythrocephala

Reed-stem Borer

Calameuta filiformis

Rose Bud Sawfly

Monardis plana

Rose Leaf-rolling Sawfly

Blennocampa phyllocolpa

Rose Sawfly

Arge ochropus

Arge pagana

Rose Shoot Sawfly (Czech, Germany)

Cladardis elongatula

Rose Slug Sawfly

Endelomyia aethiops

Scabious Sawfly

Abia candens

Abia sericea

Small Gooseberry Sawfly

Pristiphora appendiculata

Small Pine Sawfly (Austria)

Gilpinia pallida

Social Pear Sawfly

Neurotoma saltuum

Solomon’s Seal Sawfly

Phymatocera aterrima

Turnip Sawfly

Athalia rosae

Violet Sawfly

Ametastegia pallipes

Web-spinning Larch Sawfly

Cephalcia lariciphila

Wheat-stem Borer

Cephus pygmeus

White Pine Sawfly

Diprion similis

White-horned Horntail (USA)

Urocerus albicornis

Willow Sawfly

Cimbex luteus

Willow Wood-wasp

Xiphydria prolongata

Zig-zag Elm Sawfly

Aproceros leucopoda

Zig-zag Sawfly

Aproceros leucopoda

Scientific name order:

Abia aenea

Honeysuckle Sawfly

Abia candens

Scabious Sawfly

Abia fasciata

Banded Honeysuckle Sawfly

Abia lonicerae

Honeysuckle Sawfly

Abia sericea

Scabious Sawfly

Acantholyda erythrocephala

Pine False Webworm (USA)

Red-headed Pine Sawfly

Acantholyda posticalis

Great Web‐spinning Pine Sawfly

Allantus cinctus

Banded Rose Sawfly

Curled Rose Sawfly

Ametastegia carpini

Geranium Sawfly

Ametastegia glabrata

Dock False-worm

Dock Sawfly

Ametastegia pallipes

Violet Sawfly

Aproceros leucopoda

Zig-zag Elm Sawfly

Zig-zag Sawfly

Arge berberidis

Berberis Sawfly

Arge cyanocrocea

Bramble Sawfly

Arge ochropus

Rose Sawfly

Arge pagana

Rose Sawfly

Athalia rosae

Turnip Sawfly

Blasticotoma filiceti

Fern-stem Borer

Blennocampa phyllocolpa

Rose Leaf-rolling Sawfly

Calameuta filiformis

Reed-stem Borer

Caliroa annulipes

Oak Slug Sawfly

Caliroa annulipes

Oak Slugworm

Caliroa cerasi

Pear and Cherry Slugworm

Pear Slug Sawfly

Caliroa cinxia

Oak Slug Sawfly

Oak Slugworm

Caliroa tremulae

Aspen Slug Sawfly

Cephalcia lariciphila

Web-spinning Larch Sawfly

Cephus pygmeus

Wheat-stem Borer

Cimbex connatus

Large Alder Sawfly

Cimbex femoratus

Birch Sawfly

Cimbex luteus

Willow Sawfly

Cimbex quadrimaculatus

Almond Sawfly

Cladardis elongatula

Rose Shoot Sawfly (Czech, Germany)

Cladius brullei

Blackberry Sawfly

Raspberry Sawfly (Canada)

Cladius grandis

Poplar Sawfly

Diprion pini

Common Pine Sawfly

Diprion similis

Imported Pine Sawfly (USA)

White Pine Sawfly

Endelomyia aethiops

Rose Slug Sawfly

Eriocampa ovata

Alder Sawfly, Woolly Alder Sawfly

Euura leucotrocha

Pale-spotted Gooseberry Sawfly

Euura olfaciens

Blackcurrant Sawfly

Euura ribesii

Common Gooseberry Sawfly

Gooseberry Sawfly

Euura spiraeae

Aruncus Sawfly

Euura tibialis

Falsa Acacia Sawfly

Fenusa dohrnii

European Alder Leafminer (USA)

Fenusa pumila

Birch Leafminer

Fenusella hortulana

Poplar Tree Blotch leaf-miner (Iran)

Gilpinia frutetorum

Nursery Pine Sawfly (USA)

Gilpinia hercyniae

European Spruce Sawfly

Gilpinia pallida

Small Pine Sawfly (Austria)

Hoplocampa brevis

Pear-fruit Sawfly

Hoplocampa flava

Plum Sawfly

Plum-fruit Sawfly

Hoplocampa fulvicornis

Plum Sawfly

Plum-fruit Sawfly

Hoplocampa testudinea

Apple Sawfly

Janus compressus

Pear-shoot Sawfly

Kaliofenusa ulmi

Elm Leafminer (USA)

Macrophya punctumalbum

Privet Sawfly

Metallus albipes

Raspberry Leafminer (Germany)

Metallus lanceolatus

Geum Leafminer

Metallus pumilus

Raspberry Leafminer (Netherlands)

Monardis plana

Rose Bud Sawfly

Monoctenus juniperi

Juniper Sawfly

Monophadnoides rubi

Raspberry Sawfly

Monostegia abdominalis

Loosestrife Sawfly

Monsoma pulveratum

Green Alder Sawfly (USA)

Nematus septentrionalis

Birch Sawfly

Neodiprion sertifer

European Pine Sawfly

Red Pine Sawfly (USA)

Neurotoma saltuum

Social Pear Sawfly

Orussus abietinus

Parasitic Wood-wasp

Periclista lineolata

Oak Sawfly

Phymatocera aterrima

Solomon’s Seal Sawfly

Pristiphora appendiculata

Small Gooseberry Sawfly

Rhadinoceraea micans

Iris Sawfly

Sirex noctilio

Lesser Horntail Wasp

Tenthredo scrophulariae

Figwort Sawfly

Tomostethus nigritus

Ash Sawfly

Trachelus tabidus

Black Grain-stem Borer

Tremex columba

Pigeon Tremex

Urocerus albicornis

White-horned Horntail (USA)

Urocerus flavicornis

Banded Horntail

Urocerus gigas

Giant Horntail

Greater Horntail Wasp

Urocerus flavicornis

Greater Horntail Wasp

Xiphydria camelus

Alder Wood-wasp

Xiphydria prolongata

Willow Wood-wasp