Species name and Taxonomy


You may wonder why scientists always use difficult Latin names to indicate species. Why not just use the common name? The reason for this is that common names often are not specific enough: the same animal can have different common names in different areas, this may cause confusion. A second reason is that common names are usually based on the external features of the species. Within one species you may have different sub-species (which may have a lot in common but are not exactly the same), that can look the same but are in fact not. If you call these by their common name you would give all different sub-species the same name.

The system of naming species is called taxonomy and was developed by Carolus Linnaeus in 1758. His system of binomial nomenclature gives all species two names in Latin. The first word of the binomial is the genus name and the second word is the specific species name. So the genus name is a collective name and includes all species of a certain group.

How does taxonomy work?

Taxonomy attempts to indicate the level of kinship of species, starting with Kingdom as the highest level, and stepping down with Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species, and when applicable Subspecies.

Kingdom

This is the highest level in taxonomy. Biologists distinguish five Kingdoms that contain all living things on earth.

These are:

  • Kingdom Monera: includes all the bacteria and other "Prokaryotic" cell types;
  • Kingdom Protista: includes all single celled "Eukaryotes"
  • Kingdom Animalia: includes all the animals;
  • Kingdom Plantae: includes all the plants; and
  • Kingdom Fungi: includes all of the fungi and moulds.

Phylum

A phylum can be defined in two ways:

  • as a group of organisms with a certain degree of morphological or developmental similarity (The phenetic definition), or
  • A group of organisms with a certain degree of relatedness (the phylogenetic definition).

Class

This can be defined as a group of organisms that share a certain trait. An example of a Class is the Class Mammalia. This is a group of animals that are all warm blooded and give birth to live young which they feed through mammary glands.

Order

The organisms in this group can be quite different in physical appearance and general behavior, but they share basic attributes. Like the group of carnivores, there are many different types of animals in this group, but they all hunt down prey to eat it.

Family

All organisms of a certain type are grouped as the same Family. For instance the Genus Pantherea and Genus Leopardus are in the same Family referred to as cats, but these two groups are distinct because at a more detailed level they are not that closely related.

Genus

This name classifies an organism with like organisms, they are very closely related.

Species

A species is often defined as an organisms which are the same, and capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. In many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing criteria are often used, such as based on similarity in DNA or morphology.

Subspecies

When a species has a locally adapted trait it can be further subdivided into two or more subspecies.