This section highlights popular and scientific press and their sometimes correct, but often grossly misrepresented, versions of real scientific names and taxonomy. The aim of this section is to show people how to spot common mistakes and hopefully convey some knowledge about how we name animals**.
FOR EXAMPLE, from CNN.com (just quickly searching "species, new, genus") comes this article on a new rat species:
Can you spot the error?? If you want to know what is wrong with the nomenclature or how it is written highlight the text in the following box: [The genus name "Mallomys" should be in italics and the family name "muridae" should have a capital "M" - Muridae: Mallomys]
This one was just a small error, but sometimes the information can be so badly written that someone looking for correct information is confused or misled. Hopefully this will inform future readers of some of the many mistakes when reading/writing about animal species.
** I am dealing only with animals here because they are named under certain rules (International Code of Zoological Nomenclature) that I am more familiar with. Plants and microorganisms are named under different rules...
To start off, though, here is a short lesson on how animals are named.....................................................[No thanks, take me to the files!]
Many times throughout history, people have wanted to name and organize animals into groups. This is where nomenclature (naming things) and classification (organizing things) began. Animals are classified into the following groups (called ranks) that form a heirarchy:
Though there are other ranks within these major ones (for example, Subclass, Infraorder or Superfamily), many are not regularly used. Each rank is a member of the one above it, so all members of a certain FAMILY are members of the ORDER, CLASS, etc. above it. A different FAMILY in the same ORDER will also be in the same CLASS, PHYLUM, and so on. So, for example, ladybird beetles (FAMILY: Coccinellidae) and scarabs (FAMILY: Scarabaeidae) are both beetles (ORDER: Coleoptera) and are therefore also both in the CLASS Hexapoda.
Though these are the names of the ranks/groups used to organize living things, there are other ways in which scientists signify what rank is meant, without having to explicitly state the rank. This is usually done using specific suffixes or text styles. Here is a list of some of the common/standard ways to figure out what rank is being talked about:
- KINGDOM, PHYLUM, CLASS and ORDER usually end with an -a, though this is not always the case.
- SUPERFAMILY names (describing a group of FAMILIES) always end in -oidea, such as Tipuloidea, Scarabaeoidea and Chalcidoidea.
- FAMILY names always end in -idae, such as Tipulidae, Scarabaeidae and Chalcididae. This is an important one, since FAMILY is one of the most commonly used ranks.
- SUBFAMILY (below FAMILY) names always end in -inae, such as Tipulinae, Scarabaeinae and Chalcidinae.
- TRIBE (below SUBFAMILY) names always end in -ini, such as Scarabaeini.
- GENUS names are always first-letter CAPITALIZED and italicized, such as Tipula, Scarabaeus and Chalcis.
- SPECIES names are always lower-case and italicized, such as oleracea, sacer and microgaster.
Along with special endings and styles of writing, there are other common rules for writing/reading species names:
- When used as nouns, all ranks (except species and subspecies) should begin with a capital letter. For example, Scarabaeidae is correct (not scarabaeidae), while a scarabaeid (no -ae) beetle is correct as lower case because it is an adjective describing a type of beetle. Adjectives describing ranks often modify the original term. When talking about a type of animal regarding its order, often -n will be added; an example of this is a moth in the order Lepidoptera is a lepidopteran insect (this holds true in many other situations - coleopteran, aranean, carnivoran - though sometimes there is no easy way to know how to change its form). To describe a family type we would remove the -ae (making it end in -d). Subfamily and tribal names change from -inae and -ini, respectively, to -ine when used descriptively, e.g. a bug in the subfamily Triatominae would be regarded as a triatomine bug; in the same regard, a member of the tribe Scarabaeini would be a scarabaeine beetles as well. This can make things tricky, but other ways of writing those statements, e.g. "a beetle in the tribe Scaraebaeini" can usually help clarify what rank is being described.
- When we want to save space in the text, or are talking about many species in one genus, taxonomists will abbreviate the genus name to one or a few letters. For example, if we are talking about two flies in a paper, Musca domestica and Musca autumnalis, we may abbreviate their names to M. domestica and M. autumnalis (though often not at the beginning of a sentence). If there is another genus that starts with an "M" in the paper, the authors may abbreviate the names differently. For example, if in the same paper they talk about Minettia flaveola, they may abbreviate the former names Mu. domestica and Mu. autumnalis so as not to think that Mi. flaveola is in the same genus.
Now that you have some idea about how we name and classify animals, please follow the link below to see some examples of good and bad nomenclature in the media: