Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature
Mark Isaak       specimen@curioustaxonomy.net
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The Rules We Play By


Rules for assigning scientific names have become well codified in order to keep the names internationally unambiguous and understandable. The full set of rules is rather involved, but the most important parts are fairly simple:

Rules for Zoology

Bison (Bison) bison bison (Linne, 1758) Skinner & Kaisen, 1947 (American bison)
Buettikoferella Stresemann, 1928 (buff-banded grassbird) This name was originally published in an obituary. Stresemann mentioned, in an obituary for Buettikofer, that a bird genus was named after him, but Stresemann realized that Buettikoferia was preoccupied, so he proposed this as a replacement. [Orn. Monatsb. 36: 40,note4]
Nessiteras rhombopteryx (Loch Ness monster) This proposed name is not a valid scientific name because there is no type specimen to go with it.
Cryptoclidus (plesiosaur from Oxford Clay) The spelling was intended to be Cryptocleidus (from the Greek for 'hidden clavicle'), but probably from a printing error, it appeared, and now remains, without the 'e'.
Eschscholzia Chamisso, 1820 (California poppy) Named for zoologist Johann Eschscholtz, but the 't' was omitted from the publication.
Haliaeetus Savigny, 1809 (bald eagle) This name is a misspelling; the original description had an extra 'e', which must now stay there.
Huernia (African Asclepiadaceae) Named after Justus Heurnius, the first European to collect plants in South Africa, but the "eu" was transposed in publication.
Wisteria Nuttall (woody vine) Named for Caspar Wistar, author of America's first anatomy textbook and successor of Thomas Jefferson as head of the American Philosophical Society. But Nuttall misspelled it with an "e", and the name is stuck.
Ambystoma or Amblystoma Tschudi 1838 (mole salamanders) Both names appeared in the original description. Amblystoma ("blunt mouth") was probably intended, but Ambystoma (and the family Ambystomatidae) is the accepted name now. Amblystoma is on the Official Index of Rejected and Invalid names, but it still gets quite a bit of use.
There are means of overruling priority, if the newer name has come into common use before the priority of the original name is recognized.
Scrotum humanum Brookes, 1763 (Megalosaurus) Among the oldest dinosaur bones discovered. So named because the condyles had a testicular shape. Fortunately, the genus will continue to be known as Megalosaurus because that name came into common use before it was discovered that Scrotum was an earlier synonym. [Halstead & Sargent, 1993, Modern Geol. 18:221-4]
Sometimes the same name gets reused by people not aware of the original use:
Argus Bohadsch, 1761 (gastropod)
Argus Scopoli, 1763 (lycaenid)
Argus Scopoli, 1777 (satyrid)
Argus Poli, 1791 (mollusk)
Argus Temminck, 1807 (bird)
Argus Lamarck, 1817 (hesperiid)
Argus Boisduval, 1832 (lycaenid)
Argus Walckenaer, 1836 (arachnid)
Argus Gray, 1847 (mollusk)
Argus Gerhard, 1850 (lycaenid) Only the original name is valid. Since that name has priority, all the rest are junior homonyms and needed to be renamed.

However, the same name can be used for a plant and an animal. There are many instances:
Adonis L., 1753 (bird's-eye ranuncula) or Adonis Gronow, 1854 (fish)
Ammophila (grass, or sphecid wasp)
Andromeda L., 1753 (wild rosemary) or Andromeda Gistel, 1834 (bupestrid beetle)
Arenaria L. 1753 (Caryophyllaceae plant) or Arenaria Brisson 1760 (bird)
Aotus (pea, or monkey)
Arctophila (grass, or syrphid fly)
Aristotelia (tree, or moth)
Bartramia (moss, or sandpiper)
Cannabis L. (hemp) or Cannabis Blyth, 1850 (bird)
Cecropia (tree, or moth)
Cereus (cactus, or sea anemone)
Chloris (grass, or green finch)
Colocasia (taro, or tussock moth)
Culcita (tree fern, or echinoderm)
Cyanea (Hawaiian bellflower, or jellyfish)
Darwinia Rudge, 1815 (shrub), or Darwinia Pereyaslawzewa, 1892 (flatworm)
Darwiniella Speg. 1888 (fungus), or Darwiniella Anderson, 1992 (barnacle)
Darwiniella (orchid, or barnacle)
Dracunculus (herb, or roundworm)
Dugesia (composite, or flatworm)
Eisenia (brown alga, or earthworm)
Erica L. (heath) or Erica Peckham and Peckham 1892 (jumping spider)
Ficus (fig, or gastropod)
Hystrix (grass, or porcupine)
Iris (flower, or mantis)
Knightia (Proteaceae plant, or fossil fish)
Lactarius (fungus or fish)
Leptonia (toadstool (now usu. a subgenus of Entoloma), or rove beetle)
Liparis Rich., 1818 (orchid) or Liparis Scopoli, 1777 (fish)
Megaceros (hornwort, or Pleistocene deer)
Morus (mulberry, or gannet)
Oenanthe (water celery, or bird)
Pieris (Japanese andromeda, or butterfly)
Ponera Lindl. (orchid) or Ponera Latreille, 1804 (ant)
Prosopis (mesquite, or solitary bee)
Prunella Linnaeus 1753 (Lamiaceae plant) or Prunella Vieillot 1816 (bird). In fact, each genus includes a Prunella vulgaris.
Rhamphorhynchus (orchid, or pterosaur)
Ricinus (castor bean, or bird louse)
Sirindhornia (orchid, or moth)
Sphaerostoma (fossil gymnosperm, or trematode)
Stenella Syd. (1930) (fungus) or Stenella Gray, 1866 (dolphin)
Trichia von Haller 1768 (slime mold) or Trichia Hartmann 1840 (snail)
Verticordia DC. (myrtle) or Verticordia Sowerby, 1844) (clam)
Zenkerella (African legume, or African rodent)
Zeus Minter & Diam. (1987) (fungus) or Zeus L. (dory)
Ekgmowechashala (early Miocene North American primate) The name means "small fox-man" in Lakota
Lainodon orueetxebarriai Gheerbrant & Astibia, 1994 (Upper Cretaceous mammal) The 'tx' is pronounced like English 'ch'.
Nqwebasaurus thwazi de Klerk et al., 2000 (Late Jurassic/Early Cretaceous South African coelurosaur) It is pronounced: N-(click with tongue)-KWE-bah-SAWR-us. If you are a real stickler for pronunciation, the "nq" is a nasal postalveolar click. Nqweba is the native Bantu name of the place where the dino was found.
Schtschurowskia Regel & Schmalhausen, 1882 (Umbelliferae)
Tahuantinsuyoa macantzatza Kullander, 1986 (Peruvian cichlid) The genus is a Quechuan name of the Incan empire; this page has a pronunciation.

There are no official rules about how names should be pronounced. Still, many names have right and wrong pronunciations according to conventional usage.

Buddleja L. (shrub) Named after botanist and rector Adam Buddle in an era when 'j' sometimes signified a long 'i' between two vowels. It is pronounced BUD-ul-EYE-uh.
There are plenty of other rules; see the ICZN and specifically the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature for the complete set.

Rules for Botany

The rules above are for zoological nomenclature. The rules for botanical nomenclature are similar. Some exceptions are:

Taphrina cerasi (Fuck.) Sad. The fungus Taphrina cerasi was originally described by Karl Wilhelm Gottlieb Leopold Fuckel and later redescribed by Richard Emil Benjamin Sadebeck, so this listing now appears in some catalogs. The prefered citation, though, is Taphrina cerasi (Fuckel) Sadeb.
Ziziphus zizyphus (L.) H.Karst. (jujube)
Johnson-sea-linkia profunda N.J. Eiseman & S.A. Earle, 1983 (seaweed)

Rules for Fungi

Traditionally, fungi have been grouped with plants (even though, as later discovered, they are more closely related to animals). In 2011, this grouping was formalized, with the botanical code (ICBN) renamed the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN).

Because fungi often have very different sexual and asexual forms, the same species of fungus could have two different scientific names, one for the sexual form and one for the asexual. This rule, however, has changed (with much gnashing of teeth) as of 2011, because DNA analysis makes it easier to recognize two forms as the same species.

Rules for Bacteria

There is also a separate International Code of Nomenclature of Prokaryotes governed by the International Committee on Systematics of Prokaryotes (ICSP). It has published the Approved Lists of Bacterial Names, listing all names valid as of 1 January 1980; it serves as a starting point for adding new names. "(Approved Lists 1980)" may be used in place of an author citation for names on the lists. Other rules particular to prokaryotes are:

Bacillus Lepetelier & Audinet-Serville, 1828 (stick insect) or Bacillus Cohn, 1872 (bacterium)

See also Trüper 1999 in the references.

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