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How should zoos decide what common name to sign an animal as?

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by Neil chace, 20 Sep 2022.

  1. Neil chace

    Neil chace Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    It should come as no surprise to anyone that many common zoo animals have multiple common names. It seems, however, that these multi-name species fall into different categories:
    1. Species that zoos seem to use the names interchangeably. For instance, some zoos may sign a "puma", while others sign a "cougar" or "mountain lion".
    2. Species that one of the names has recently fallen out of favor, being replaced with a separate common name, for instance, andean bear is now used way more frequently than spectacled bear, and amur tiger is used way more frequently than siberian tiger.
    3. Species in which one name seems to be the overwhelmingly most commonly used name. For instance, when was the last time you saw a zoo sign Choelopus didactylus as Southern Two-toed Sloth or the Unau? I'd assume never, as despite these both being common names, Linneaus' Two-toed Sloth seems like the obvious favorite.

    How do you feel zoos should decide on a common name to use, and should it matter? Should all zoos in a region come to a consensus (i.e. should the AZA issue a list of "suggested" common names), or does it matter if zoos use different common names to refer to the same species? What criteria should be used when determining which of multiple scientific names is used, when presented with multiple valid choices? When discussing this topic, don't feel limited to the examples I mentioned in this post, as I know there are certainly many more species with this predicament than I could use as examples.
     
  2. jayjds2

    jayjds2 Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    As far as AZA goes: most TAGs seem to have an education advisor, and I think that this topic is best left to them to decide. They already have a lot of different hats to wear (so to speak), but I think adding this is another one that makes sense. This is an interesting topic - I’ll see if I can add my own thoughts later.

    Education Advisors
     
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  3. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member 5+ year member

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    I think generally speaking the best common name is going to be whatever is most convenient - usually that will be the most commonly used one, but depending on the species it could also be one that people might be able to spell more easily, or the one that fits better on whatever size sign you have (Puma/Cougar vs Mountain Lion).

    I think there are also exceptions to this, however, when it comes to education and branding. Lycaon pictus is often called "African wild dog"; unfortunately, this name often produces a connotation of a vicious, dangerous beast. Meanwhile, "painted dog" or "African painted dog" is equally valid, but instead points to a neat and positive attribute of the animal; this is more likely to produce a positive connotation of a beautiful, fascinating canine. "Killer Whale" vs "Orca" is another good example of this.

    Sometimes zoos might also decide that one common name is more descriptive and better for education than another, or that changing social norms have made a name inappropriate for the current era. These situations as well as the previous paragraph about branding feel like situations where the TAG or zoo's education experts would have an idea of what the best solution is.

    At the end of the day, my opinion is that whatever common name is used is less important than making sure to include the scientific name with it - and all zoos should be including scientific names. The point of binomial nomenclature is standardization; the point of common names is convenience.

    This has come up a lot for me with herps, a group for which common names can vary wildly; in recent species lists I've begun using scientific names more frequently for them because of this. I also frequently change the common name from whatever the zoo sign says to what seems more commonly used; I know many others prefer just quoting the sign verbatim, but I've found that sometimes my translations offer more clarity. Of course, as you pointed out scientific names are not always settled either - though in the vast majority of cases there is one that is more accepted than others.
     
    Last edited: 20 Sep 2022
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  4. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    It always seems to me that zoos like to go for a longer common name whenever possible. I know multiple zoos (at least in North America) Rhinoceros unicornis the "Greater One-horned Asian Rhinoceros". Why? "Indian Rhino" is right there!
     
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  5. Neil chace

    Neil chace Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    I understand what you're getting at, and think this one fits in the same category of siberian tiger and spectacled bear, where one name is falling out of favor in favor of another. One guess I can give is that it's because the Rhinoceros is also native to Nepal and a few other countries, not limited to purely the country of India. Another possible explanation is that it may have something to do with negative connotations many associate with the word "Indian" and its long history of being used as a term for Native Americans. That's just a guess though, I don't know the real reason, for better or for worse, of why that common name is chosen for this species.
     
  6. Neil chace

    Neil chace Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    I second what you say about herps. Numerous times I've returned from a trip to a new zoo with a reptile or two I'm unable to add to my lifelist since I can't figure out which species it is based on the info given. Especially with ones where a generic common name is given that applies to multiple species, such as Plated Lizard.
    Your examples of the Orca/Killer Whale and the African Wild/Painted/Hunting Dog are both good examples where connotation differences between the names may lead to one name being preferable over another. Not sure how common this reason is for opting for a certain common name, but there are select instances this is important. Similarly, I always find it interesting when a zoo decides to change what name to use when updating signage. One zoo near me was updating signage for some renovations in the Rainforest aviary, and during the renovations "Bartlett's Bleeding Heart Dove" was replaced with "Mindadao Bleeding Heart Dove" on the sign. At first I was slightly confused since I first thought the species the zoo keeps changed (a little bit of research I did proved me wrong), and now I do agree with the zoo's decision of replacing the eponymous name of the species with a geographic name, which makes more sense as it gives more defining, relevant, information about the species, where it's wild range is.
     
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  7. ZooElephantMan

    ZooElephantMan Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Another example of referring to animals by different common names can be seen with Equus africanus somaliensis-- I am aware of at least one zoo which calls them "Somali Wild Donkeys" as opposed to the more well-known common name of "Somali Wild Ass". I personally don't mind referring to the species as the Somali Wild Ass, but I can see why a zoo would want to avoid that given the double meaning.
     
  8. Neil chace

    Neil chace Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    You know, I wouldn't be surprised if most zoo organizations do give recommendations on common names to refer to animals as. From mere anecdotal observation, it does seem most AZA Zoos seem to refer to "African Penguin" while most ZAA Zoos seem to refer to the same species as "Black-footed Penguin". Wouldn't be surprised if this observation is more than just coincidental.
     
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  9. Zoofan15

    Zoofan15 Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    A lot of decisions seem to be based on the image a name projects:

    Orca is preffered over Killer Whale, which aside from the latter fuelling their reputation as monsters over one of a respected apex predator, sounds more colloquially as opposed to scientific

    Indian antelope are usually called Blackbuck, but you can 100 percent guarantee any zoo exhibiting them on their African Savannah will sign them as Blackbuck (most visitors are consequently fooled into thinking they're an African species).

    I've known at least one zoo that's stepped over broken glass to avoid reffering to their False gharial as that. They first used Tomistoma, then switched to Sunda gharial. My assumption is they figured 'False' presented what is otherwise an impressive species as something significantly lesser.
     
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  10. cloudedleopard611

    cloudedleopard611 Well-Known Member

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    The St. Louis Zoo switched from false gharial to Malayan gharial. They might have used tomistoma at one point as well.
     
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  11. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member 5+ year member

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    I think that's another good example of choosing a common name that is more accurate. Originally the species was thought to be a gharial-looking crocodile, but DNA sequencing showed it to actually be from the same family as Indian gharial - thus making it not actually a "false" gharial.

    Same logic can be applied to False Tomato Frog (IMO, better called "Sambava Tomato Frog"). Not only is it in the same genus as "true" Tomato Frog, but there's even some ambiguity about them being different species!
     
  12. CMTM

    CMTM Well-Known Member

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    Towards the beginning of my current position, writing signage for the perspective species list of the exhibit was a task I help out with at first and have now since taken over. This very idea (what is the correct common name to use?) comes up surprisingly frequently. Keep in mind that most zoos/aquariums/museums aim to have their signage at around a 4th-5th grade reading level. Studies show that higher reading levels are not as effective from the standpoint of visitors reading the entire sign and comprehending what they're reading.

    A few examples that I worked on personally are:

    Urticina felina - These are often known as Northern Red Anemone, however several species share this common name so we decided to go with an alternate common name, Dahlia Anemone. Most visitors are not particularly familiar with anemones apart from finding nemo so the switch was largely unnoticed.

    Faxonius virilis - These led to a debate between myself and a colleague over what the correct common name is and if it even exists. The name we eventually went with was Virile Crayfish, which my colleague argued was the best one to use as it was the most direct translation from the binomial name. This has not tracked well with visitors (kids asking their parents what virile means) and we're reprinting with an alternate that is also often used, Northern Crayfish.

    Henricia sanguinolenta - These were the subject of another debate. I felt we should use the common name used for the entire genus, Blood Star. However, my colleague argued that they could not find any reference to that common name being used for that species and said we should instead use Northern Henricia. I caved and we printed Northern Henricia and visitors simply could not pronounce it. It is being reprinted to Blood Star.

    Scyliorhinus retifer - as a kid every aquarium I went to called these Chain Dogfish. Some time in my late teens there was a quiet shift to Chain Catshark. I am not sure why this change was made but I suspect the general uptick in popularity of benthic sharks such as the Coral Catshark led to the change to a more specific name. We use Chain Catshark but do occasionally get asked what the difference between a catshark and a dogfish is (we say a catshark is a small, benthic dogfish).

    Another issue we ran into was that there are a lot of common names used in Maine that are not used elsewhere. Some examples are "Sand Shark", "Dock Spider", "Mud Trout", and "Sun Turtle". We don't use any of these as the "primary name" but will often reference local names in the "meat" of the sign. For example:

    Dark Fishing Spider Dolomedes tenebrosus
    Known locally as the Dock Spider for where they are most often encountered by humans, the Dark Fishing Spider is one of the largest spiders in North America and the largest spider in Maine. Females are larger than males and may reach a leg-span of over three inches across. Dark Fishing Spiders are able to walk across the surface of water as well as dive beneath it in search of aquatic insects, tadpoles, and even small fishes to eat.

    Light, easily digestible, information using language that anyone old enough to read English will mostly be able to understand.
     
  13. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    I'm generally not a fan of using common names just because they are a translation of the binomial - the idea that scientific and common names have to follow the same rules is just silly to me. However, I have only ever heard that species called the Virile Crayfish, so that name is fine as it's clearly in use.
    Why add the "Asian" though? It just makes the name longer than necessary "Greater One-horned Rhino" still works. If often times seems zoos like to add the continent an animal occurs on to the species' common name, but only when that names the name unnecessarily long (another example would be the African Red-billed Hornbill).

    Also, I just want to note that Planet Zoo uses "Columbian White-faced Capuchin Monkey" when the could just drop "monkey" and "Columbian" to have a much more usable name. I like to think someone at Frontier used the unnecessarily long name as an in-joke about how zoos like to lengthen common names.
     
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  14. CMTM

    CMTM Well-Known Member

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    I agree. I was never disputing whether "Virile Crayfish" was commonly used, it's just not the right choice for a facility who's average visitor is about five years old. Also, the other crayfish species we're planning on exhibiting, Cambarus bartonii, is generally called the Appalachian Brook Crayfish but is also known as the Eastern Crayfish (to make things even more confusing Faxonius virilis is occasionally known as the Eastern Crayfish as well). For our purposes we decided on Northern for F. virilis and Eastern for C. bartonii. This is of course not perfect but for our purposes (teaching that there is more than one species of crayfish in Maine) it should be alright.
     
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  15. JVM

    JVM Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    Definitely not a fan of "Greater One-Horned Asian Rhinoceros". Sounds very archaic to me.

    I know one that stands out to me is Baringo giraffes seem almost universally knowm as Rothschild's giraffe now, which sticks oit even more when many other species are losing the Name's Animal names.

    Andean bear is one I have been curious about; as a kid I saw it consiatently referred to as Spectacled bear in pretty much every source. I was confused by Amur tiger as well but have read up well on it.

    I do recall having an older book that referred to Bengal tigers as Indian tigers and definitely in context as a common name for that subspecies, not as a reference to individuals in a particular country.

    For a few months I was unaware the black-footed penguin, African penguin and Jackass penguin were onè species. I can definitely see why no zoo uses the latter...
     
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  16. Dassie rat

    Dassie rat Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    I agree about calling it the Somali wild ass. The donkey was derived from the Nubian wild ass.
     
  17. NMM

    NMM Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    I have noticed that tomistoma now seems to be the most commonly used name, never seem to hear false gharial now.

    Regarding the Indian/Greater one horned rhino. I just checked what Whipsnade uses, as their exhibit is called Rhinos of Nepal. They do use greater one horned, could have been a bit ironic otherwise.
     
  18. Neil chace

    Neil chace Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Huh, I've never seen them signed as Greater One-horned ASIAN Rhino, and when first reading your post I completely read over the word, reading the reasonable common name I'm familiar with. I agree adding the Asian in there is both unwieldy and completely unnecessary.
     
  19. Aardwolf

    Aardwolf Well-Known Member

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    "Jackass" penguin is most commonly used for African penguin, but it's also used for the other Spheniscus species.

    Overall, there are no set rules, and a lot of what a zoo calls its animals come down to institutional preference. There's also regional preferences, especially for native species, such as seen in panther/puma/cougar. AZA or the TAGs aren't going to weigh in; I'm studbook keeper for a species that goes by more than one common name and I have zoos in my program which use both.

    Overall, the trend seems to be going more for geographic names over "discover" names (i.e., Vietnam pheasant instead of Edward's pheasant), indigenous names over western names (I've been seeing milu more often as opposed to Pere David's deer), and dropping names that are potentially offensive (recent move to change "Hottentot teal" to "blue-billed teal" - I support the dropping of the old name due to racist connotations, but am not crazy about the new one, since there are a lot of ducks with blue bills, so I don't consider it very descriptive).

    I feel like Lycaon pictus, the preferred new common name still has a ways to catch on. I understand the marketing and logic behind the new name, but everyone I know still calls them wild dogs, or AWD for short. When I was younger I always heard them referred to as Cape hunting dogs.
     
  20. Lota lota

    Lota lota Well-Known Member

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    And signing them as wild donkeys might not be a good thing.