Flagger Content Author Content Reason Flag Created Resolved by Resolution
jasonhernandez74 Gulf Fritillary (Dione vanillae)

it is an inactive taxon, but no taxon swaps have been made

Wed, 13 Apr 2022 03:47:28 AM UTC loarie


The current taxon is Agraulis vanillae, but there are many observations still IDed as Dione vanillae, and were never swapped. Here is just one example:

Posted by jasonhernandez74 about 2 years ago

I think it's just a massive swap taking an enormous amount of time to finish. They should have reached out to staff beforehand to make sure such a large swap wasn't going to tax the site too much, if they didn't already.

Posted by rynxs about 2 years ago

I guess there's also the matter of swapping the subspecies, who weren't swapped before the species was. They appear to have also moved Dione vanillae into Agraulis, for some reason.

@loarie did you know about this swap before it was committed? It seems hastily put together.

Posted by rynxs about 2 years ago

Currently seeing 55198 observations that need to be moved over. We'll see if it goes down in the next few minutes/hours.

Posted by thomaseverest about 2 years ago

@kyhlaustin is there a flag where this swap was discussed? Gulf fritillary has over 58,011 observations and an extensive moderation history so definitely should be discussed before swapping.

I'll revert the swap now. Please don't re make it or make any other large swaps like this before discussing first - thanks

Also if you plan to make a large swap like this once discussed its important that its done properly - I'm not sure how it got in the current state with the subspecies like Dione vanillae ssp. forbesi descending from Agraulis vanillae but thats not correct

Posted by loarie about 2 years ago

Children were moved to output, and that doesn't change the genus (which I think defeats the point of that feature in cases like these). If anyone is interested, before reverting it's down to 52039 observations.

Posted by thomaseverest about 2 years ago

Ok i'm reverting - this will take a while to clean up. I messaged kyhlaustin.

Posted by loarie about 2 years ago

So, was the reversion temporary, just to ensure that the swap goes without a hitch, or is there actually not going to be a swap?

Posted by jasonhernandez74 about 2 years ago

Núñez et al. (2022) (link here: https://resjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/syen.12523) treat Agraulis as a distinct genus separate from Dione based on morphological and molecular data. They elevate seven former subspecies of Agraulis vanillae to species status. This should be the taxonomy followed by iNat going forward.

Posted by kyhlaustin about 2 years ago

The irony is we just went from Agraulis vanillae -> Dione vanillae 9 months ago at @nlblock's request - see https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/539975. This is why, when we don't have an external reference we're following as in the case of butterflies, its really important to first discuss changes of species with >10k or so obs before changing them to avoid things from bouncing back and forth like this.

It looks like what happened here was:
1) change rank for Subgenus Agraulis descending from Dione to Genus Agraulis descending from Tribe Heliconiini.
2) Swap Species Dione vanillae into Species Agraulis vanillae with 'move descendants' checked

If we wanted to make this change, really we would have needed to do the following:
1) make new taxa for Genus Agraulis, Species Agraulis vanillae and all the ssp e.g. Agraulis vanillae ssp. forbesi
2) swap all the ssp e.g. Dione vanillae ssp. forbesi -> Agraulis vanillae ssp. forbesi
3) swap the species Dione vanillae -> Agraulis vanillae
4) swap the Subgenus Agraulis -> Genus Agraulis
5) split genus Dione -> Agraulis, Dione to avoid clashing IDs from the narrowed concept of Dione once Agraulis is carved off

Posted by loarie about 2 years ago

@kyhlaustin re:

So, was the reversion temporary, just to ensure that the swap goes without a hitch, or is there actually not going to be a swap?

We don't have a global taxonomic reference for butterflies - which is a huge bummer because it means there's not clear direction in which curators should be curating.

We're left with trying to stitch regional lists together and otherwise coordinating our activities. My understanding from the long discussion in this flag https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/435943 os that iNat is following some combination of
https://www.butterfliesofamerica.com/L/Nymphalidae.htm and https://www.butterfliesofamerica.com/US-Can-Cat.htm for new world butterflies. The problem is these lists don't agree. Some people want to use the all america list which covers both continents but others want to use the US only list which is more up to date. Ironically the more up to date US list treats this as Dione while the older list treats this as Agraulis. There's also the possibility to follow the primary literature. But because none of these avoid this situation of taxon changes bouncing back and forth with curators curating in different directions the most important thing before making a big swap (e.g. a butterfly with more than 10k obs) is to first check with some other butterfly curators such as nlblock, @kwillmott etc and make sure there's agreement on the direction you're proposing to curate. This change, even though its in a new paper, would be particularly controversial since it goes against the Pelham list and goes in the opposite direction of a recent change. Hope this helps. If the butterfly community could come up with a global list of butterflies like we have for fishes, plants, birds, etc. this would be a huge contribution to iNat but this seems to be ever out of reach

Posted by loarie about 2 years ago

Well, now there is a mess left behind. All of the Dione vanillae in the linked observation were swapped to Agraulis vanillae; then, when the swap was reversed, all the (now) Agraulis vanillae became inactive taxon. Finally, when I added my ID of Dione vanillae, all those Agraulis vanillae became maverick.


Posted by jasonhernandez74 about 2 years ago

yes - there's an issue with starting the reverting because we're having trouble stopping the swap so may have to let it just run. - there's currently around 52,000 IDs of Agraulis vanillae from that that swap created (which may still be growing) that will all need to be removed. Please don't change anything else until its reverted which may take a few days. I'll report back here. We definitely need either to find a way to make reverting easier (maybe not possible) or something like tools for multiple curator approval/timed delay of large swaps like this.

Posted by loarie about 2 years ago

OK https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/109073 is reverted and I made https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/109433 to replace IDs of Agraulis vanillae from new obs created while that change was in effect

Posted by loarie almost 2 years ago

Sorry, just seeing this now. In regards to Agraulis as a genus or subgenus (of Dione), I still think it's best to follow the Pelham catalogue. It's a pretty subjective debate, and authors don't all agree. Appendix S3 of the Núñez et al. (2021) paper (for which @kwillmott was second author, BTW) makes an argument for Agraulis being its own genus, and I tend to agree with their conclusion. But this is a case that highlights the inherent subjectivity of taxonomy and why it's likely best to use a central authority like the Pelham catalogue as an arbitrator of sorts for iNat.

The current challenge with Butterflies of America is that the site is not being actively maintained like the Pelham catalogue is. A global reference would be amazing!!

Posted by nlblock almost 2 years ago

Not to mention it can prolong the peer review process when you have to discuss with your reviewers which name to use.

Posted by jasonhernandez74 almost 2 years ago

Not all authors on a paper agree either - I am not sure whether I favor Agraulis or Dione, not really too bothered. Regarding Butterflies of America, we are working to finally update it, hopefully by May/June.

Posted by kwillmott almost 2 years ago

Thanks for discussing any butterflies in a flag before making a change that have more than a few thousand observations. As with this Dione/Agraulis case sounds like there's not clear consensus either way so avoiding unnecessary churn back and forth is the main priority until there's a clear consensus

Posted by loarie almost 2 years ago

Now that both Butterflies of American and Pelham agree that Agraulis is a subgenus of Dione, it may be a good time to resolve this.

Posted by salmanabdulali about 1 year ago

Not sure, might still be worth waiting a bit - recent paper by Carla Penz proposed restoring Agraulis, so perhaps it’s best to wait a while to see if a consensus emerges…

Posted by kwillmott about 1 year ago

"perhaps it’s best to wait a while to see if a consensus emerges" -- this is what various threads on the forum have requested for taxon changes in general.

Posted by jasonhernandez74 about 1 year ago

Well, I think there’s a spectrum from cases where new data show a previously tentative classification to be wrong and where new changes are obviously needed, to merely different viewpoints about classifications that everyone agrees are viable alternatives. The Agraulis-Dione question falls into the latter category. So, I think each case needs to be considered on its own.

Posted by kwillmott about 1 year ago

Hello everybody! Yesterday someone inactivated Dione vanillae and merged with Agraulis vanillae. How to proceed? Based on this flag this kind of change in the database should be discussed first right? Woudn't be best to lock this taxon for now?

Posted by edgar_crispino 8 months ago

Yes, would be good to discuss changes for these common species before they are made. Butterflies of America currently has all former Agraulis in Dione: http://butterfliesofamerica.com/L/t/Dione_a.htm

Posted by kwillmott 8 months ago

@darielsaqui please discuss before swapping taxa with open flags and 10's of thousands of obs in the future.

All should I revert https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/129331 to keep Gulf Fritillary in Dione as we've discussed above?

This swap will probably take about a week to finish fully processing before it can be reverted (assuming thats what we want to do). Please don't make any other changes until we've had a chance to discuss. I'm working under the assumption that we've decided to stick with Dione and that deciding to do something different would be an intentional change

Posted by loarie 8 months ago

@edgar_crispino again? Wasn't this thread started because someone did just that before?

Posted by jasonhernandez74 8 months ago

@loarie I've received several complaints from users regarding the change. Since it was agreed no to change both taxa until a consensus was reached, I would vote for a reversion, but sincet I'm no Lepiderologist I'll stick to the best course of action that the others agree to.

Posted by edgar_crispino 8 months ago

ok - no hurry since we have to let this change run its coarse before reverting and I suspect it will take about a week to do so. I'd like to hear from @darielsaqui to make sure they're aware of this thread and the discussion around sticking with Dione for now

Posted by loarie 8 months ago


Sorry, I didn't know about this discussion. I'll be more aware of this next time.

Posted by darielsaqui 8 months ago

thanks @darielsaqui - in general before making any swaps with more thank 50k input obs I recommend making a flag to discuss for a week or seeing if there is a flag like there was here to read over before committing the swap

Posted by loarie 8 months ago

Next time, it will be someone else who also was not aware of this discussion. I expect this taxon to have this problem repeatedly, just by the nature of how iNat handles taxonomy.

Posted by jasonhernandez74 8 months ago

For groups where we have referenced Taxon Frameworks (e.g. Mollusks referenced to WoRMs) things work much better because we are able to show the "relationship" (e.g. unknown, match, or deviation) to the reference on taxon changes https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/118906

For groups like Butterflies where we have no reference its much harder since iNat doesn't know the direction we're supposed to be curating in so it can't alert the curator. One option we could do with existing tools is to add 'Taxon Curators' to butterflies which would mean only a small group of selected curators could make changes to the butterfly branch. The pros would be the small group could coordinate to agree on and internally communicate the direction to curate in, the cons are all the curation work would get bottlenecked through that small group of curators which can slow things down

I wish the butterfly community would get together and make a global taxonomy reference we could use like WoRMs or POWO to clarify the direction we're curating in, that would be my preference by far. But my understanding is that we are many years from that?

Posted by loarie 8 months ago

I'm confused about why this swap is taking place. Recent published genomics research places this species in the genus Dione, and generally aligns the species name with incarnata, not vanillae. The species name is therefore Dione incarnata. See pages 26-27 of the paper here: https://archive.org/details/t-report-8-7-further-changes-in-butterfly-names

Other taxonomic swaps on iNat have actually cited this paper (see: https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/128844) as justification. The swap back to Agraulis vanillae is in the reverse direction and is not supported by current research.

Posted by jvcalhoun 8 months ago

Sorry, it's pages 24-25 in the original paper https://archive.org/details/t-report-8-7-further-changes-in-butterfly-names

Posted by jvcalhoun 8 months ago

It should also be understood that there appear to be two discrete species that were originally identified as vanillae. They have been separated into Dione vanillae and Dione incarnata. Populations in the US are generally applicable to D. incarnata, while Neotropical populations are applicable to D. vanillae. The confusion over the the genus is due to two papers, one in 2019 that supports placing Agraulis as a subgenus of Dione (https://lepsurvey.carolinanature.com/ttr/ttr-8-2.pdf) and another in 2022 that prefers to retain the genus Agraulis (https://resjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/syen.12523). Both papers, however, support the recognition of incarnata and vanillae as discrete species.

Posted by jvcalhoun 8 months ago

@jvcalhoun, the swap from Dione vanillae -> Agraulis vanillae was made by a curator who wasn't aware of curators intention to stick with Dione vanillae as discussed here. We're currently waiting for the swap to fully process (might take a few more days) and then will start reverting it (Agraulis vanillae -> Dione vanillae) which will probably take another week.

Posted by loarie 8 months ago

Thanks so much for the clarification. I apologize if I muddled the discussion.

Is there any plan to recognize the taxon D. incarnata, which recent research suggests should be the name of the species that occurs in the US, separate from Neotropical D. vanillae?

Posted by jvcalhoun 8 months ago

we have no reference for butterflies so I defer to the curators involved in this thread re: D. incarnata

Posted by loarie 8 months ago

What a mess! The foundings of this swap are irrelevant - the issue is why are people allowed to keep swapping taxon's back and forth. I agree with @loarie 's suggestion that only a few butterfly curators should be allowed to swap taxons based on the already agreed rules and/or ongoing discussions for exceptions to those rules. Yes, this will slow down the process since there are very few of us and I personally am already having trouble keeping up with ever-changing taxonomy of Euptychiina alone but it is preferable to have a delay of a few weeks or even months than observers records being constantly swapped back and forth like this, not to mention all the extra work it creates when the site admin's then have to revert those swaps.

Posted by belgianbirding 8 months ago

Hello everyone, I think that the lack of a database on which to base the changes is an interesting topic, I have been studying butterflies for many years, specifically Lepidoptera from Mexico, I have come across many times with some descriptions that are not found in other databases. of data, like this case, a few years ago some institutions came to the conclusion that we would use the information that comes from BoA and two or three other authors from Mexico who have been constantly working with new descriptions, I think it is important here to choose a base of data on which to base ourselves to make the changes, but it would also be very useful if a manual was created to make these changes, the idea of having a group of curators working on this change is a very good idea, but I think there will come a point where it will be too much work to make all the necessary changes, taxa are in constant motion. I think most curators use BoA and the Pelham catalog as the most trusted guides in America for making these changes, so I think these should be the databases that iNat can draw from and have a starting point. so that in the future these things do not happen.

I think that at this moment the change that should be made is for Dione incarnata for individuals from North America and Dione Vanillae for those from the Neotropics.

Posted by aleturkmen 8 months ago

I concur with @loarie and @belgianbirding that, in the absence of a single definitive source, that there be some sort of group that is assembled to vet a taxon swap. And I'm not sure it would have to initially be a group of moth and butterfly experts (although that would be ideal), it could just be a panel (rotating because I know everyone is swamped already) that then contacts experts if there is a particularly thorny or contentious proposal.

Posted by norm_shea 8 months ago

@aleturkmen @jvcalhoun is the difference between the taxa morphologically apparent, or would we be stuck assuming which one we're looking at based on range?

Posted by jasonhernandez74 8 months ago

Distribution appears to be the best indicator. The range of incarnata is believed to be SW US, south through most of Central America and Hawaii (subspecies D. i. incarnata), and the SE US (subspecies D. i. nigrior). The range of D. vanillae is given as the Bahamas, West Indies, northern South America and Panama. Subtle differences in wing morphology are mentioned in the literature, with incarnata having slightly longer wings than vanillae, as well as smaller black spots and smaller white dots on the forewings.

To make things more interesting, there is some speculation that the subspecies D. vanillae insularis may represent yet another species, occurring in the Bahamas and the West Indies, except for the southern Lesser Antilles. @kwillmott may be able to provide additional details.

Posted by jvcalhoun 8 months ago

Presumably, then, the common name "Gulf fritillary" would have to be transferred to incarnata, as it is the one which occurs in the Gulf region. Which would leave vanillae in need of a new common name.

Posted by jasonhernandez74 8 months ago

That's true. William J. Holland first coined the name "Gulf Fritillary" in 1898 with the North American taxon in mind. Prior to that, Maynard (1891) called the species the "Red Silver-wing." Ironically, Holland included the species in the genus Dione (what goes around comes around)!

In their book "Jamaica and its Butterflies," Brown and Heineman (1972) called vanillae the "Tropical Silverspot." This name is already frequently used for populations of vanillae outside of North America. This seems appropriate, as its congener, Dione moneta, is generally known as the "Mexican Silverspot."

Posted by jvcalhoun 8 months ago

Is the most recent Gulf Fritillary taxon swap completed yet? I am still getting perhaps a hundred notifications a day where people are updating the id over what is now the inactive Dione genus which is what my original id had been changed to. I have been waiting thinking these would all get fixed.

Posted by stomlins701 8 months ago

I'm still seeing the processing sign here https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/129331 which means there's still a delayed job working on it. Swaps on huge taxa like this are not scaling well. Once the swap is done we can revert it (which will take about as long)

Posted by loarie 8 months ago

it looked like that taxon swap timed out after 100 hours of processing (which is another issue - we need to make big swaps more scalable). But regardless that means ok to start the revert which I just kicked off now. Will probably take another 100 hours or more....

Posted by loarie 8 months ago

It seems to me the software could be amended to not allow a swap to proceed without further action in a couple of scenarios:

The taxon has thousands of observations.
The taxon has been involved in a swap before.

In either case, it should be relatively straightforward to require more rigor.

Posted by victorengel 8 months ago

No opinion on the taxon-specific questions, but I second @victorengel's suggestions about updating the software to control drastic / large swaps - perhaps requiring approval from multiple curators?

Posted by jrcagle 8 months ago

Hi all, i've just closed another flag on same issue here -so it's confusing others still.
On these issues from @loarie about how to manage such issues in future: "The pros would be the small group could coordinate to agree on and internally communicate the direction to curate in, the cons are all the curation work would get bottlenecked through that small group of curators which can slow things down" and @ jrcagle on the "perhaps requiring approval from multiple curators?"

Some taxon groups like this perhaps need some leadership from the most experienced. Sadly, my experience of trying to ask the most experienced here from Lep community when aiming to implement some swaps etc was stony silence.

I'm going to play devils advocate. For context, i'm outside the Lepidoptera community - i have no political allegiances nor bias. But here's roughly who i see has actually implemented taxonomic changes within Papilionoidea during the last year, those closing flags raised by users.


My point being, above in discussion are many highly experienced people above in the Lepidoptera community (and beyond), some authors on the taxonomic papers affecting this and other schemes presented by iNaturalist. If there are to be 'advisors' or such - i'm seeing a mismatch between those advising and those implementing.

Posted by sjl197 8 months ago

I agree with sjl197 that people who know how and are willing to use iNat to make taxon changes (lets call the curators) are not always the same group of people who know of have strong feelings about which direction to curate in (lets call the advisors). This is why I love taxon frameworks with references - curators don't have to worry about which direction to curate in and can focus on making the taxon changes.

Thats what makes butterflies such a hard case. For me the best case scenario would be for the butterfly community to get together and publish a global checklist of butterflies. Even just down to genus would be super helpful (e.g. if the checklist had Dione and didn't have Agraulis we could imply that Gulf Fritillary should be Dione vanillae)

Barring that, we could make the set of curators you listed above 'taxon curators' (ie the only people who can make butterfly changes) and try to make sure that group gets the memo not make any changes without having guidance on what direction to curate in until hearing from the advisors. I generally think of @kwillmott and @nlblock more in that 'advisor' group - users who have good expertise on which direction to curate in but don't make alot of swaps themselves.

In other news, the Dione vanillae -> Agraulis vanillae reversion is finished and I'm now moving some Dione nodes around to undo what was done and making a Agraulis->Dione and a Agraulis vanillae->Dione vanillae swap (might take a while), then I'll force a final reindexing and hopefully things will be back to where they were

Posted by loarie 8 months ago

ugh - I didn't realize there was a subgenus Agraulis that was involved in this mess. I may have unravelled things the wrong way and have to do a few more reverts, what a mess - bear with me

Posted by loarie 8 months ago

@sjl197 is right, there is often a mismatch between people who actually do the work to make the changes and those who are involved in the taxonomy itself. In my case it’s because I just haven’t had the time to learn how to make the changes in iNat, and having made the argument that we should use ButterfliesofAmerica as a source for taxa from the Americas, I felt that updating that list was more of a priority for me, as a basis for iNat. Not that I can claim to have worked on that in any exhaustive way either. It seems a good rule of thumb though for anyone contemplating changes that will affect hundreds of records to check in with several taxonomists beforehand, I’m happy to add my opinion, or at least comment on whether I think a change looks permanent or not.

Posted by kwillmott 8 months ago

Just reading through the comments and there were several mentioning the need for a global checklist.

It is not global but the Pelham Checklist for USA and Canada is well done, widely respected and he does a good job of keeping it updated.


Posted by wbernstein 8 months ago

Regional lists aren't nearly as helpful as global lists for iNaturalist (since its taxonomy is used globally), but we are relying on butterfliesofamerica as at least a regional guide - See this flag https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/435943 - My understandnig though is that we're using the all americas list https://www.butterfliesofamerica.com/L/Neotropical.htm which @kwillmott is involved in rather than the related US/Can list https://www.butterfliesofamerica.com/US-Can-Cat.htm since these two lists aren't the same

Posted by loarie 8 months ago

I think this has been completely reverted - if anyone sees anything weird remaining please report it here

Posted by loarie 8 months ago

I think you're right. I just checked all the observations I've noticed that were in limbo, and they're all good.

Posted by victorengel 8 months ago

"the cons are all the curation work would get bottlenecked through that small group of curators which can slow things down"

I think that's a pro. That's the whole point of limiting changes like this. We should be like ents with such large updates and not be hasty.

Posted by victorengel 8 months ago

Currently Dione has 5 species, one of which (vanillae) is in subgenus Agraulis, and the other 4 are unplaced. I expect that the 4 unplaced species should be placed in subgenus Dione.

Posted by salmanabdulali 8 months ago

Moving forward, also keep in mind what was mentioned above, that the species previously identified in most of North America as D. vanillae is now recognized as D. incarnata based on genetic research. This treatment is followed in the Lists of American Butterflies (all Americas list: https://www.butterfliesofamerica.com/L/Neotropical.htm), which is mentioned as the regional guide for iNat. The current iteration of the Pelham checklist also uses this treatment (https://www.butterfliesofamerica.com/US-Can-Cat.htm). The taxon incarnata is currently recognized as a subspecies of vanillae in iNat.

Posted by jvcalhoun 8 months ago

If we want to split D. vanillae (sensu lato) into D. vanillae (sensu stricto) + other species
(and I think we should not because I love the split but because I think it simplifies things if we stick to the All Americas List, then my preference would be for someone to annotate the IUCN range map:

as I've done here:

And share it in a post to this thread (I usually upload to Flickr and then put it in an img tag here). Then we can use that as a guide to make atlases range maps for the carved off species

Posted by loarie 8 months ago

Here is a general range map based on Nunez et al. (2022) (https://resjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/syen.12523), which is consistent with the Butterflies of America webpage treatment:


It includes a number of putative taxa based on genetic analyses. These taxa are now recognized as subspecies of vanillae in iNat

Posted by jvcalhoun 8 months ago

Add a Comment

Sign In or Sign Up to add comments