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What is Binomial Nomenclature? (In Animals)

We are all aware that there are many different species of wildlife in the world. Each species may go by a handful of different names depending on which region you are in, for example mountain lions are also known as cougars or panthers in different parts of the United States. But each species only has one scientific name.

In this article, we will be talking about binomial nomenclature, or scientific names and what this term means.

What is binomial nomenclature?

The literal meaning of binomial nomenclature is a two-name naming system. It refers specifically to the formal naming system used by scientists to name an animal species, made up of two components. The first part of the name is the genus (or generic name), the second is the species (or specific name).

What is taxonomy?

Photo collage of different animals
Photo collage of different animals

Taxonomy is a scientific field focused on the naming and classification of biological organisms. It covers all types of organisms, including plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms. Taxonomists, the scientists that practice taxonomy, organize taxonomic units into relevant categories (often referred to as taxa).

Many different strategies are used to classify taxa, such as looking at similarities (and differences) in morphology, ecology and genetic structure. These are all used to accurately assign organisms within the taxonomic hierarchy, and ultimately allow taxonomists to name taxa using binomial nomenclature.

What is a genus?

A genus (plural: genera) is a taxonomic classification for an organism, which is one taxonomic level higher than a species. Multiple species typically fall under one genus and share certain qualities that allow them to be grouped together under the genus name. Most commonly, a genus is made up of species that are evolutionarily similar (based on their DNA).

However, other distinctiveness can be used to separate genera, such as morphological features, or geographic isolation. In binomial nomenclature, the genus is always the first name to appear before the species name. Also, it is always capitalized and italicized.

What is a species?

Biologist examining a plants
Biologist examining a plants

A species is the lowest taxonomic level for an organism. Historically, a species has been defined as a group or organisms which are naturally interbreeding, and creating fertile offspring. Although this still stands as a general rule of species taxonomic classification, there are several exceptions potentially caused by hybridization or non-sexual reproduction.

Many species are classified by their genetic distinctiveness, particularly for species which look very similar to one another. The species always follows the genus name in binomial nomenclature. Like the genus, it is also italicized, but it always starts with a lower-case letter.

Who invented binomial nomenclature?

The concept of binomial nomenclature was introduced by Carl Linnaeus, who is a famous Swedish biologist often referred to as the “father of modern taxonomy”. Initially, this concept was known as the Linnaean taxonomy, and was further developed and expanded upon by Gaspard and Johann Bauhin to formulate our modern conception of binomial nomenclature.

Carl Linnaeus published his first System Naturae book in 1735, but it wasn’t until his 10th edition, published in 1758, where binomial nomenclature was used consistently enough to solidify its introduction and use into the modern taxonomy.

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Why is binomial nomenclature important?

Since there are so many species in the world, with more and more being discovered each day, it’s important to be able to distinguish between organisms. Many species have common names, but they are often shared with multiple species.

For example, rat snakes can be found throughout the world, but there are actually hundreds of different species. Binomial nomenclature allows scientists to distinguish and refer to a unique species without the confusion that using common names might present.

Are there any rules for naming a species?

There are several rules in place when it comes to naming a species, some are broad and refer to general etiquette when it comes to naming species and using binomial nomenclature. Some examples include:

  • The full name (genus and species) are written in italics.
  • Genus always comes before species.
  • Genus name is always capitalized, and species name is never capitalized.

When naming certain taxa, more specific rules are in place to create a standardized naming system. The biological nomenclature for plants follows the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN), and the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) for animals.

What are some examples of binomial nomenclature?

Photo collage of fruits and animals
Photo collage of fruits and animals

There are millions of species on Earth, many of which are yet to be discovered and named by taxonomists. Some other common examples include:

  1.     CatFelis catus
  2.     DogCannis familiaris
  3.     ElephantProboscidea elephantidae
  4.     DolphinDelphinidae delphis
  5.     PotatoSolanium tuberosum
  6.     ApplePyrus malaeus
  7.     BananaMusa paradiscium

To find other examples of binomial nomenclature in animals simply start a Google search with your favorite animal and add “scientific name” to the end.

Samantha Smith B.S.

About Samantha Smith B.S.

Samantha is a wildlife biologist with degrees in animal behavior and environmental biology. Most of her work has been with reptiles, however she has also worked with birds and marine organisms as well. She enjoys hiking, snorkeling, and looking for wildlife.