Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dealing with Scientific Names

This is something I set up on a Game wikipedia site as it concerned the use of such topics with the insects and fish. I thought I would make it more mainstream, so here it is. The links in the contents take you to the Wikia itself. As it is directly copy and pasted the formatting may appear weird in some places so bear with me.


1 Introduction
2 The basis of scientific names
3 Using scientific names & correct grammar
4 Definitions
5 Family names


Ever seen those complicated, overly long scientific names that come with animals? Sometimes they are called latin names. Yes, the word "latin" makes many people cringe, but today, for the benefit of this wiki, this will change. I may add more to it in future. And I'm 15, so don't expect a whole thesis here.

The basis of scientific names

A scientific name has three main parts, but we only need to worry about two on this wiki. The three parts are the Genus, species and subspecies as follows:

Cabbage White, Pieris rapae (rapae)
Pieris = genus
rapae = species(rapae) = subspecies *not important

The species is specific (see the word similarity) to one individual. The genus is sort of a link. Related species will most often be in the same genus. The Cabbage White and the Mustard White as an example, are both in the genus Pieris as they share many things in common.

Subspecies, while not relevant to this wikia, are another feature. Sometimes seperate races of a species will exist, but they are not different enough to be defined as species, so they become subspecies. The Yellow-rumped Warbler of North America is a good example occuring as "Audubon's" or "Myrtle" subspecies as follows;

Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dendroica coronata (coronata) Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dendroica coronata (auduboni)
*note I use brackets () to indicate subspecies. This is not neccessary but I like to use them.Now you may notice that the Myrtle's subspecies name is the same as its species name. This is because it is the type population. In other words, this population was the first named and discovered of this species. The word Type also refers to other contexts, such as when a new genus is formed; the first species in that genus will be the "type species". Some type species such as the Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) have the same species name and genus name to reflect this. Using scientific names & correct grammar
Grammar can never be escaped, and lets face it it makes things much better.
The first rule of scientific name grammar: Never capitalize the species name! Never! Lots of people do it but it is wrong. Do not become one of them!

Dendroica auduboni is right.Dendroica Auduboni is wrong.

 Never ever ever ever capitalize the species name! Also subspecies are not to capitalized either. Only the genus.

Now you may notice I italicize scientific names. This is mostly a choice, but when using them in a sentence it makes them stand out. Like using chinese characters in an English sentence. Most scientists these days recommend making them italic in all instances.

Sometimes you may see me use something like this: .

D. auduboni
Yes, I put a D and a period instead of Dendroica. In the same way you can use the surname of a person once you have identified him, you can shorten the genus name if it has already been used like so:

You can only abbreviate if the genus is the same. Just because the first letter is the same does not mean you can abbreviate! If you said Dendroica auduboni you can use D. auduboni after that, but not for Dasyptera. Now of course it might get confusing if you define both genus names and use D. for both so you might want to consistently refer to the full spelling. It's up to you.

When you use a latin name it refers to the entire species. So say:

Dendroica auduboni is a cool bird.
Instead of:
The Dendroica auduboni is a cool bird. *This is incorrect. While you can say "Sheep are cool" as well as "The Sheep are cool" there is a difference. Using the "the" is referring to specific individuals instead of every single Sheep on the planet. (When you say "the sheep" you are likely pointing out a herd in a field, not the entire species race in itself). Short rule: Do not use "The" when referring to present tense. You can say "The Dendroica auduboni are cool." and "The Dendroica auduboni will be cool." but not present tense! No "is"!

When you want to refer to the family in text, you can say Audubon's Warbler (Parulidae) or Audubon's Warbler (Family: Parulidae) or Audubon's Warbler (Parulidae; Parulinae). See Family section for more detail.

The plural of genus is genera. Don't ever say genuses. You will get laughed at in the scientific community, and if they are nice enough they may correct you.
There are a few important definitions that should be defined that have their uses on this wikia.
Cf. means compare. This is a way of referring to a species it might be, but is not 100% identified as it. For insects with 1000s of species such as the
Walkingstick and Scorpion in Animal Crossing sense it is impossible to tell what species was on the mind of the developers if any. So if you found what might be a close match you might say cf. Scorpionus sp. And it doesn't really matter if the cf. is in italic.

For example if I saw a bird I thought might be Audubon's warbler I might say Dendroica sp. (cf. auduboni). I recommend putting the cf. phrase in brackets. Sp. is short for species. If you saw a bird in the genus Dendroica but don't know what species it is you can say you saw a Dendroica sp. You could say Dendroica species if you wanted but I would assume it is rather unprofessional.
Ssp. means subspecies. Similar to sp.but with subspecies. Don't think I need to say more here.

is used when referring to multiple species in a genus. Instead of saying " I saw Dendroica coronata, D. auduboni, D. palmarum & D. tigrina on the weekend. (I wish.)"  I could just say "I saw 4 different Dendroica spp. on the weekend."

Family names

Family names. They are slightly different than Genus, species and subspecies names. Unlike the scientific name itself, they do not need to be capitalized.

I will use the Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) in this example.
The Cabbage White is in the family Pieridae. Now what does that mean?

Well family is just another way of showing a relation. Species is specific, Genus is broadening things by including closely related species, Family is broader, including closely and semi-closely related species. In the middle of Genus and Family there are other levels which are rarely important except in a few cases. The "hidden" levels are as follows:

Family - Subfamily - Tribe - Genus
After genus there is also subgenus, which I will not mention in any more detail here.

The family for the Cabbage White is Pieridae, and the subfamily is Pierinae. The tribe is Pierini. Convenient huh? Going to back to "type species" the Cabbage White is almost certainly the type species of the family Pieridae or at least close. You can tell this as the family, subfamily, tribe and genus all have the same root.
Also if the genus shares the name of the family (as a result being the first genus described in the family) it is called the "Type genus".

How do you refer to families in text? The key two letters are "id". See below:

The Cabbage White is a Pierid.

Simple huh? Not quite. All family names end in "dae". All subfamily names end in "nae". Tribes in "ini". With this simple knowledge you can identify the status of the name in question i.e. whether its the family, subfamily etc. Now how is this relevant, well:

The Cabbage White is a Pierid. <- Family *you cut off ae
The Cabbage White is a Pierinid <- Subfamily *with subfamilies you cut off the ae, but add id.
The Cabbage White is a Pierini. <- Tribe. The name is not altered whatsoever. Luckily you rarely have to refer to anything other than the family or subfamily, so this is not neccessary. Now sometimes people would say "The Cabbage White is a Pieriine" or Pierine (change last i to e). I don't know what people use nowadays.

So all you have to do is cut off the ae? Almost, but there is another rule. When you say it is part of the family you cut it off. If you are referring to the family as a whole you don't poke it at all.

The Cabbage White is a Pierid. *You are saying it is of the family thus referring to an individual.
The Cabbage White is in the family Pieridae. * Here you are referring the family as a whole by saying it is in the family.
The Cabbage White is a Pieridae. *Don't ever use this. You can say "That man is a Roger" as in he is in the Roger family but with taxonomy things are a little different.

Remember I said "When you want to refer to the family in text, you can say Audubon's Warbler (Parulidae) or Audubon's Warbler (Family: Parulidae) or Audubon's Warbler (Parulidae; Parulinae)." You should know that the last example shows the Family first (ends in dae) and also the Subfamily (hint: ParuliNAE)   
Dendroica auduboni is a North American warbler, considered by some to be a seperate species from D. coronata. D. auduboni differs in voice, colouration and habits yet many still want to keep them together as one species: D. coronata.   
And that concludes this collection of information. I used no sources, but I'm fairly certain there are no faults (but no promises)

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