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Biological Nomenclature, Use and Misuse on the Internet

I am endebted to Dr Pádraig Whelan of the Department of Zoology, Ecology and Plant Science (ZEPS) at University College Cork in the Republic of Ireland, for pointing out my errors in displaying scientific names on my webpages, my excuse is pure ignorance as I am not a biologist.

(There are international rules for writing scientific names, with occasional disagreement on how they should be presented, often by people who aren't scientists! For the amateur the following is a useful and reliable guide. R.P.)

The correct way to cite the scientific name of "our" honey bee (the one that pertains to UK and Ireland) is...

Apis mellifera mellifera - that is, all in italics or
Apis mellifera mellifera - that is, each word separately underlined
A. mellifera mellifera
A. mellifera mellifera
A. m. mellifera
A. m. mellifera are also valid.

I include this information that has been gathered from several sources, including Pádraig Whelan, in order that others may possibly avoid the trap that I fell into.

Also please notice that I used the words 'honey bee' not the incorrect term honeybee...

The following are also not correct Apis Mellifera Mellifera or Apis Mellifera mellifera
Apis mellifera mellifera,   A. m. mellifera or A. m. mellifera   (continuous underlining is incorrect)

For the name of the honey bee (regardless of subspecies names), the following are correct...

Apis mellifera
Apis mellifera
A. mellifera
A. mellifera

I offer below a set of definitions of words used in Taxonomy and description of individual organisms. The indented entries and degree of indentation, give an indication of their hierarchical rank.

Taxonomy The science of classifying, describing and characterising different taxa of plants, animals and other organisms.
Linnaean TaxonomyA method of classifying living things, devised by Carl Linnaeus, the most important aspect of this system, is the general use of binomial nomenclature, the combination of a genus name and a single specific epithet to uniquely identify each species of organism.
EpithetThe second portion of a binomial name consisting of generic name and a species epithet.
NomenclatureThe science and practice of giving a name to a taxonomic entity.
CircumscriptionThe characters and words used to describe and define a given taxon and which separates that taxon from all other taxa.
RankThe position or level of a taxon within the taxonomic hierarchy.
Taxon Pl. TaxaA group or category, at any level, in a system of classifying plants or animals (e.g. an entity at a species level, a genus level, a family level etc. all may be called a taxon).
 DomainRecently added extra level also known as superkingdom, or empire.
  KingdomOriginally the highest level or rank in the taxonomic hierarchy.
   Division or PhylumThe major taxonomic rank within the Animal Kingdom and is arranged imediately below kingdom.
    ClassThe major taxonomic rank, above order and below division.
     OrderA taxonomic grouping of families believed to be closely related or a single family with no apparent close relatives that ranks below class and above family.
      FamilyA group of one or more related genera that can be clearly separated from other such groups.
       Genus Pl. GeneraA group of related species usually clearly separable from other such groups, or a single species without close relatives, ranks above species and below family.
        Species Pl. SpeciesA taxon comprising one or more populations of individuals capable of interbreeding to produce fertile offspring.
         SubspeciesA subdivision used in animals and increasingly in plants.
          VarietyA taxonomic rank below the rank of subspecies used for identifying plants.
          CultivarA similar rank below the rank of subspecies used for identifying cultivated varieties of plants.
          TypeA designated representative for a plant or animal name. Various classes of types exist, including: holotype, isotype, syntype, lectotype, neotype, etc.

Various subdivisions have arisen with such entities as superclasses, superorders, infraorders, families, superfamilies and tribes. Mostly in entomology, where they have a plethora of things that do not fit the traditional plan.

There are also ranks below species... In zoology, subspecies and morph, in botany, variety and the now outdated form. In plants, there are several levels below species that may be used. These infraspecific ranks are subspecies, variety, subvariety, forma and subforma. The last three being little used.

Any taxon can be characterised by just using the trinomial (genus, species and infraspecies) with indication of the rank. With plants the rank must always be cited - usually as an abbreviation and should not be italicised.

The authors of a species name are sometimes included, but they are only really necessary where the same name may have inadvertently been given to two different taxa (homonyms) within the same genus. With animal names the author name is always followed by a year, with plants, the author name or abbreviation is given alone. Sometimes a space is inserted between Initial and Surname, but it is a matter of personal preference.

Common names... There are no hard and fast rules for 'common' names which are often region specific colloquial names.

In general, scientific names are derived from Latin or Greek, and strictly speaking, their pronunciation should follow strict Latin or Greek pronunciation rules. How they are pronounced really matters little provided are understood by all concerned.

Important Abbreviations

cf. - confer (compare with - )
cv. - cultivar
f. - form/ forma
fam. - family
gen. nov. - genus novus - a newly described genus
ined. - ineditus (unpublished)
ms. - manuscript (unpublished manuscript name - generally follows an author name)
p.p. - pro parte (in part)
sect. - section/sectio
s. lat. - sensu lato (in the broad sense)
s. str. - sensu stricto (in the narrow or strict sense)
sp. - species
sp. aff. - species with affinity to, or close to (NB. 'aff. sp.' should not be used)
sp. nov. - species novus - a newly described species (NB. 'nov. sp.' should not be used)
spp. - species (plural)
ssp. - (not preferred - see subsp.)
subg. - subgenus
subsp. - subspecies
subspp. - subspecies (plural)
syn. - synonym
var. - variety

Abbreviations of italicised words are often italicised, although they may be left un-italicised in order to stand out from italicised genus and species names.

Please Note... Honey bee is properly spelled as two words, even though many otherwise authoritative references spell it as one word.


Printed from Dave Cushman's website Live CD version

 Written... 07 and 15 December 2007, Revised... 18 December 2007, Addition... 148 October 2008,
Source Code last updated...
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