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Standardized list of Common names for North American herps

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Posted by James Wilson on January 08, 2003 at 23:38:19:

I recall an earlier conversation here about a standardized list of common names for all North American herps. I do not want to get bombarded with hate mail or anything, but I do not see how it could hurt. I am of the opinion that there are currently a lot of foolish common names being used for many different herps today. For instance, take a look at the term “Bull Snake” when used in reference to Pituophis catenifer sayi. I personally find this term inappropriate for many reasons. I hear people and read publications referring to the United States representatives of the genus Pituophis as the “Pines, Gophers, and Bulls”. Why do they say this? It is redundant. Bulls are Gophers. If you look at the genus Pituophis, here in the United States, you will see two different species: caeinifer (Gophers) and melanoleucus (Pines). However, there is no different scientific species designation for Bulls, and that is because Bull Snakes are not a species, they are a Gopher Snake subspecies. So why do I keep seeing and hearing and reading the phrase “Pines, Gophers, and Bulls”? If a person were to refer to the representatives of the genus Pituophis that are found here in the U.S. on a species level, shouldn’t that person then refer to them as the Gophers and Pines? That basically covers them all here in this country. If you look at the Common names for all of the United State’s Gopher Snakes you just may see the flawed reasoning of using “Bull Snake” as a common name for (Pituophis catenifer sayi). Here is a list of the subspecies of the Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer).
*Santa Cruz Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer pumilis),
*Pacific Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer catenifer),
*San Diego Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer annectens),
*Sanoran Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer affinis),
*Great Basin Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer deserticola),
*Bull Snake (Pituophis catenifer sayi).
You may probably notice that all of these Gopher Snakes, with exception to the Bull Snake, have common names that refer to them as Gopher Snakes while also making reference to the region that they are from. The common name “Bull Snake” gives a false impression that it is a separate species from the Gopher Snakes when it actually is not. Why not call it the “Plains Gopher Snake” or the “Central Gopher Snake.” These seem to be much more logical choices of common names for (Pituophis catenifer sayi). Another argument against the term “Bull Snake” is that all of the other Gopher Snake subspecies are also incorrectly referred to as “Bull Snakes” by the local people in any of the regions where Gopher Snakes occur. These cases of mistaken identity would be much less likely to occur if the term “Bull Snake” was dropped and all of the Gopher Snakes had names that described the region in which they are from. I wonder if it is a coincidence that there is currently a movement by many hobbyists to elevate the Bull Snake to full species status as (Pituophis sayi). Could it be that subconsciously people feel that the Bull Snake is a different species just because of its common name? I do not know. However, I feel safe in saying that it is not a different species. The Bull Snake breeds with both the Great Basin Gopher Snake and the Sanoran Gopher Snake in the areas where their ranges overlap. The same is true of the other Gopher Snake subspecies. So what makes the Bull Snake so different from the other Gopher Snake subspecies? The answer is nothing, but its common name. Yet another reason that I do not feel that the term “Bull Snake” is a good name for (Pituophis catenifer sayi) is that there is a completely different species of Pituophis in Mexico and Guatemala, that is also referred to as the Bull Snake (Pituophis lineaticollis). This species contains two different subspecies the Cincuate Bull Snake (Pituophis lineaticollis lineaticollis) and the Guatemalan Bull Snake (Pituophis lineaticollis gibsoni). To me it would just make that much more sense to change the common name for (Pituophis cateenifer sayi) so as to avoid even more confusion that could be created by associating this snake with this different species that just happens to share its common name. There are many other similar situations that could also benefit from some revamping afterwhich they could be added to the new comprehensive list of common designations for North American Reptiles and Amphibians. While I often prefer scientific names, we should realize that most of the population does not. I personally only know the Latin names for the reptiles and amphibians of special interest to me, and generally use common names for the vast majority of the other herps out there. I honestly do not see how this kind of list could hurt. In fact, it seems to me as though it would be a great benefit to the herp communitie. I realize that I just might be crazy, and I hope this does not offend anyone. I have posted it only to stimulate thought.

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