What's in a Name

I often forget there is a significant divide between scientific names and common names when writing blog posts or commenting on social media posts. Common names are entirely inadequate for describing an organism’s biological status and can lead to mass confusion in the fly fishing community.

I posted a photograph of a green drake nymph I had tied on Instagram the other day when a young east coast angler lamented that my fly looked nothing like a green drake and I was full of shit. He then proceeded to tag me in a post about what he believes green a drake is. I had to point out that the common name of “green drake” is generic for a lot of various species of mayflies. What he knew as a green drake in Pennsylvania was Ephemera guttulata whereas my green drake pattern out west was in the group of western drakes such as Drunella grandis, Drunella doddsii, Drunella coloradensis and Drunella flavilinea respectively.

The differences between the western green drake and the eastern greed drake are not subtle. The nymphs of the two species are dramatically different. Eastern green drakes are a long slender minnow type burrowing mayfly nymph found in soft water, and silty bottoms and the western green drake is a short and stout clinger type of mayfly found in fast rocky streams.

Western green drake - Drunella grandis

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Eastern green drake - Ephemera guttulata

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On common naming systems, your green drake and my green drake are two separate species of mayfly altogether. The same holds true for almost all of the standard names used in fly fishing. Over the centuries, the common names had become convoluted when fly fishing crossed the pond and landed on the east coast shores of the United States. Names such as march brown were attached to mayflies that are entirely different than the march brown mayflies of England. Further convolutions occurred when anglers migrated westward and attached the common name march brown to yet another species of spring mayfly. I dare not count the degrees of separation between a western Rhithrogena morrisoni and the eastern Maccaffertium vicarium march brown. The English march brown (Rhithrogena germanica) is more closely related to the western march brown (Rhithrogena morrisoni). No wonder that kid from Pennsylvania is confused with a single standard name used for so many different species. Confusion between Latin and common names is why we should learn some of the Latin names of the essential naturals that we choose to imitate with a fly so we too can share a common language.

Binomial nomenclature, the two name naming system that uses Latin as a standardized naming system used internationally as a method of zoological naming. This method of naming is used in science to describe organisms without leading to confusion amongst scientists around the world.

You may never need to learn the Latin two-name naming system, but at least I implore you to visit your local library and read a few books on fly fishing entomology such as Hatches A Complete Guide to Fishing the Hatches of North American Trout Streams by Al Caucci & Bob Nastasi or Selective Trout: The Last Word on Stream Entomology and Aquatic Insect Imitation by Swisher and Richards.

Note: To add further confusion, many taxonomic names have been recently changed since Hatches was published. Nevertheless, reading a real book instead of the internet might actually make you smarter.

 
 A questionable green drake pattern for use on the East Coast but perfectly suited for use out west.

A questionable green drake pattern for use on the East Coast but perfectly suited for use out west.