Identification, Images, & Information
For Insects, Spiders & Their Kin
For the United States & Canada

Species Name Misspelled?

I just noticed something, after all the time I have been looking at it since I posted a bee in this particular section. But if you'll go to the American Bumble Bee page here, you see that it's proper name is Bombus pensylvanicus (sic). Isn't Pennsylvania spelled with two letter "n's"? Is this just a typographical error on our part here at BugGuide, or was it an error for the initial person who named it? It's obvious to me that the name "Pennsylvania" was of some inspiration in this bee's naming process, so shouldn't it be spelled correctly?

Yet again, it's probably the kind of question that nobody but me would even think of or care about.

The definitive source for Bombus nomenclature
is Paul Williams' catalogue, published in print in 1998 and updated online here:

Here is the relevant section:

"NOMENCLATURE: Apis penfylvanica is the original spelling in DeGeer (1773). The orthography of this publication employs a long 's' (similar to 'f' or 'f'), a common practice of the period. This convention has since changed and subsequent authors (e.g. Cresson, 1863) have consistently used 's' for B. pensylvanicus.

Technically, according to the Code (ICZN, 1999: Article 32), pensylvanicus with just two 'n's is the correct original spelling, to be preserved unaltered unless it is demonstrably incorrect under Article 32.5. Article 32.5.1 states that clear evidence of an inadvertent error is only admissable if it lies within the original publication, without recourse to any external source of information (DeGeer, 1773, spelled Penfylvanie and penfylvanica consistently in this way). Any intentional change to that spelling in a subsequent publication is an unjustified emendation under Article 33.2.

In fact, whatever the interpretation of the Code, pragmatically it matters little which spelling of pensylvanicus is used unless either of the spellings were to be published as the name for another taxon in Bombus. No doubt many will prefer to use B. pennsylvanicus, although the name does appear as B. pensylvanicus in the recent checklist by Poole (1996) (and by analogy, the similar spelling of Vespula pensylvanica (Saussure) has been accepted, e.g. by Akre et al., 1980; Edwards, 1980)."

Anyone interested in bumble bees should bookmark this essential link:

Chestnut-sided Warbler = Dendroica pensylvanica.

ITIS search of "pensylvanica" returned a ground beetle, leaf beetle, blister beetle, wood cockroach & the good ol' Western Yellowjacket. Plus a couple fungi and a host of plants.

"Pennsylvanica" returned a ground beetle, rove beetle, humpedbacked fly, a ceridomyid, blister beetle, minute moss beetle, crane fly, bee, firefly, assassin bug & ant. Plus a couple fungi and just 5 plants.

Wouldn't it have been quicker to just say "somebody way back in the beginning misspelled Pennsylvania and due to the rules of how naming insects have been set up, it can't be changed now?"

There are names in which "pensylvanicus" is correct.
According to ICZN code, the intended original spelling of the species
name (no matter how bizarre) remains valid unless it later can be
shown, for example, that it was the result of some inconsistent
typographical error. In many cases it is the later writers
who, intentionally or unintentionally, corrupt the original
spelling which then becomes erroneously entrenched in the literature.

Regarding the usage of "pensylvanicus" in the case of a well-known cantharid beetle, here is an insightful excerpt from an article in The Great Lakes Entomologist Vol 39, No 3 & 4, pp 200-218 by careful researcher Andrew H. Williams of UW-Madison:

"The beetle usually referred to as Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus DeGeer over the past century was first described by DeGeer (1774) as Telephorus pensylvanicus. The spelling "pensylvanicus" was used by LeConte (1869, 1881), Hubbard (1880), Schwarz (1880) and Riley (1880), though Riley (1869, 1872, 1873) had earlier used the spelling "pennsylvanicus". At the time of DeGeer's description, "Pensylvania" was a common and apparently acceptable spelling for the colony, so his original spelling should not be considered incorrect. The correct name for this beetle is Chauliognathus pensylvanicus (DeGeer)".

Interestingly enough, we have it as pennsylvanicus!

next step is for an editor to correct the species name of that page. BugGuide should of course strive for taxonomic accuracy.


but chances are that in time this discussion will lie buried when a less informed editor comes along, perceives a "peculiar" spelling for this familiar beetle, believes it to be a typographical error, and then changes the page back to "pennsylvanicus" in good faith without really checking further.

I guess this is a good example of the inherent problems in having a system where it's near impossible to go back and correct initial errors in the naming of species and in the spelling of those names. You'll just be doomed to making corrections over and over that aren't accepted as official. Everyone knows how inconsistent the art of spelling was in Colonial times for America. I wouldn't be surprised if 5 or 6 different spellings for Pennsylvania were commonly accepted as being correct back in those days. It's my question that, knowing what is correct and what isn't correct today, shouldn't we always strive to have things as accurate as possible? I know, I know.... what's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. But, as a writer, misspellings are just something I can't live with and are not accepted in the publishing world.
Well, I've said what was on my mind, (however inconsequential it might have been), so I suppose that's it.

While "correctness" in spelling may be important
in the literary world, "correctness" is theoretically irrelevant (within ICZN guidelines) to the imaginative author coining a new species name. Pretty much any arrangement of letters will do, even if close to other names, as long as that arrangement consistently follows that entity in the subsequent taxonomic literature. It would be prudent, however, for the author to recognize and avoid confusing variations of familiar spellings.

Hopefully not
I placed your reasoning on the Info page of that species

Good idea!

Novel scientific names can only be proposed in scientific journals and books and include a description to separate the new species from other similar species. So how did the local bumble bees get their names? The first of our bumble bees to receive any attention from scientists were Bombus pensylvanicus and B. griseocollis. Those two species came into the hands of the Swedish Baron Charles de Geer (1720 – 1778) who, as many other contemporary noblemen, maintained a natural history cabinet with insects from around the world. In 1773 he published the third volume of a book series entitled "Memoires pour servir a l'histoire des insectes" and herein described two new species of bumble bees received from M. Acrelius in "Pensylvanie" (=Pennsylvania). His description was accompanied with a drawing of the actual specimen he described.

You might know it would have been a foreigner. The rest of the world demands that we use their language properly in pronunciation and speech, but nobody sticks up for the American language. It should be spelled pennsylvanicus. What with all this great soy ink we have these days, there's certainly no shortage for printing extra letters!

Please don't take this as a hostile remark, but I submit for your consideration that Americans rarely get pronunciations right at the best of times. What is the pronunciation of Coeur d'Alene anyway? or Baton Rouge? Or Amarillo? American names that Americans regularly butcher.
The two n's in Pennsylvania serve as the spelling of the state in American English, but really have nothing to do with the species name of the bumblebee in question. You could take up your defense of the "American Language" up with the ICZN, but I suspect it would be treated as a trivial exercise (which it is).
By the way, we here at Bugguide are not all Americans, and we receive much valuable input from "foreigners". Just like in 1773.

My views on foreigners are strange, probably, but here they are. I meant a foreigner from the standpoint of the American bee's perspective. If the bee had been in India and I was commenting on it, I would be the foreigner. Same thing applies to me if I mis-pronounced anything in that manner - I would be the foreigner making the error. When I use the term "foreigner," what I'm meaning is non-_____ (fill in the blank with whatever country that applies) and not the connotation that I'm sure some people tend to read into that word, that when some people say it, it just drips with the unspoken preface "stinking." I certainly don't mean it that way. Because after all, if we are not true natives of America, meaning Indian, we're all of foreign extract. I myself am of Viking stock, and proud of it.


An' would ye be havin' a wee bit of the Irish or Scottish blood in ye, laddie?

Irish descent. As well as Polish, Lithuanian, and English, I think.
Canadian and US citizenship. Known to be insufferable to both Yanks and Canucks.

Also, have a look at this document from the "pen of Penn" in 1682. It seems the man himself spelled it "Pennsilvania".

I Agree With You
I agree with you totally. There are many names here in America that are originally from another country and, over the years, Americans have just butchered the pronunciations of them. Two good examples from my area that just gall me to no end are:
A town 13 miles away from me called "Eldorado." They pronounce it El - do - ray - do, when it's supposed to be El - do - rah - do.
And then, there's a county nearby in Indiana that they always mispronounce by calling it Du - boys county instead of Du - bwa county - Dubois is a French name.
As to William Penn, he used two "n's" also.