Guide to tautonyms and binomial nomenclature | BBC Wildlife Magazine

Guide to tautonyms and binomial nomenclature | BBC Wildlife Magazine

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What is a tautonym?

A tautonym is when the scientific name for a species is identical for both the genus and the specific names. Whilst this is relatively common in zoology (animals), in botany (plants) it is not allowed. However, differences of just one letter are allowed in botany.

Are there any triple tautonyms?

Triple tautonyms can also occur when the scientific name of a subspecies, which is part of a species with an existing tautonym, has the same word used again.

What is a scientific name?

The scientific name of a species is assigned by scientists studying it, and is usually based on Latin or Greek words. Each scientific name consists of two words, the genus and the specific name, which is known as binomial nomenclature.

For example, the scientific name of the common bottlenose dolphin is Tursiops truncatus, where ‘Tursiops’ is the genus name and is capitalised and ‘truncatus’ is the specific name and is in lower case.

When writing out scientific names, the genus is always capitalised and the species is always lower case. Both should always be written in italics (or underlined if italics are unsuitable).

There are internationally agreed codes for applying scientific names, overseen by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) for animals and the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICNafp).

When writing out scientific names, they should be written in full the first time and can then be abbreviated with a full stop when referred to afterwards. For example, having referred to the common bottlenose dolphin previously in this article, any further use of its scientific name would be written as T. truncatus.

In the case of subspecies, an additional subspecies name is added to the scientific name, for example there are two subspecies of mountain zebra: Cape mountain zebra (Equus zebra zebra), and Hartmann’s mountain zebra (E. z. hartmannae).

Sometimes the scientific name for a species may change, when scientists decide that a species actually belongs in a different genus. Usually the specific name of the species will remain the same, however it may need to be changed if there is another species in that genus with the same specific name.

Scientific names enable scientists and naturalists to check whether they are talking about the same species. This is useful for when a species may have multiple common names in a language, such as the greater skua (Stercorarius skua) which is also known as a bonxie in Shetland. It is also useful for when scientists from different countries are discussing wildlife.

Some species do not have common names, and are only known by their scientific names.

Scientific names can become part of common speech, with famous examples including Tyrannosaurus rex (sometimes referred to as T. rex) and Boa constrictor. Many gardeners are familiar with using scientific names, such as Agapanthus and Chrysanthemum. As such, it is common to find these words not written in italics.


Insects

Anthrax fly (Anthrax anthrax)

Anthrax fly on a bee hotel. © Getty

Anthrax fly on a bee hotel. © Getty

Learn more about bee-flies: 

Goat moth (Cossus cossus)

A goat moth freshly emerged from its pupal case. © Jasius/Getty

A goat moth freshly emerged from its pupal case. © Jasius/Getty

Learn more about moths: 


Other invertebrates

By-the-wind sailor (Velella vellela)

Large number of by-the-wind-sailors washed up on Long Beach, near Tofino, on Vancouver Island, Canada. © James R.D. Scott/Getty

Large number of by-the-wind-sailors washed up on Long Beach, near Tofino, on Vancouver Island, Canada. © James R.D. Scott/Getty


Fish

Short-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus hippocampus)

Short-snouted seahorse, in the Black Sea, Crimea, Ukraine. © Andrey Nekrasov/Getty

Short-snouted seahorse, in the Black Sea, Crimea, Ukraine. © Andrey Nekrasov/Getty

European eel (Anguilla anguilla)

A European eel in Mediterranean Sea in Antalya, Turkey. © Tahsin Ceylan/Anadolu Agency/Getty

A European eel in Mediterranean Sea in Antalya, Turkey. © Tahsin Ceylan/Anadolu Agency/Getty


Amphibians

European toad (Bufo bufo), also known as common toad

Common toad in Devon, UK. © Mike Hill/Getty

Common toad in Devon, UK. © Mike Hill/Getty

Learn more about toads: 


Reptiles

Green iguana (Iguana iguana)

Green iguana in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica. © Bas Vermolen/Getty

Green iguana in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica. © Bas Vermolen/Getty


Birds

Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)

A chough in Wales, UK. © Sandra Standbridge/Getty

A chough in Wales, UK. © Sandra Standbridge/Getty

Black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa)

A flock of black-tailed godwits in flight, Ouse Washes, Norfolk, UK. © Mike Powles/Getty

A flock of black-tailed godwits in flight, Ouse Washes, Norfolk, UK. © Mike Powles/Getty

Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)

A male shelduck swimming in Norfolk, UK. © Mike Powles/Getty

A male shelduck swimming in Norfolk, UK. © Mike Powles/Getty

European goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Goldfinch perching on cherry tree branch. © Lauren Tucker/Getty

Goldfinch perching on cherry tree branch. © Lauren Tucker/Getty

Red kite (Milvus milvus)

Red kite flying in mid Wales. © Steve Littlewood/Getty

Red kite flying in mid Wales. © Steve Littlewood/Getty

Whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus)

A whooper swan in flight at Caerlaverock, Scotland. © Education Images/Getty

A whooper swan in flight at Caerlaverock, Scotland. © Education Images/Getty

Eurasian magpie (Pica pica)

With its pied colouring, the Eurasian magpie is easy to identify. © Garden Picture Library/Getty

With its pied colouring, the Eurasian magpie is easy to identify. © Garden Picture Library/Getty

Little auk (Alle alle)

Hundreds of starling-sized auks can be seen along the Scottish coast. © Getty

Hundreds of starling-sized auks can be seen along the Scottish coast. © Getty

Eurasian crane (Grus grus), also known as common crane

A female common crane at the nest with a one day old chick, in Norfolk, UK. © Mike Powles/Getty

A female common crane at the nest with a one day old chick, in Norfolk, UK. © Mike Powles/Getty

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

A goldcrest perched on a bramble looking for insects. © Gary Chalker/Getty

A goldcrest perched on a bramble looking for insects. © Gary Chalker/Getty


Mammals

Lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla)

  • Triple tautonym: Western lowland gorilla (G. g. gorilla)
Western lowland gorilla dominant male silverback 'Makumba' aged 32 years, in Bai Hokou, Dzanga Sangha Special Dense Forest Reserve, Central African Republic. © Fiona Rogers/Getty

Western lowland gorilla dominant male silverback ‘Makumba’ aged 32 years, in Bai Hokou, Dzanga Sangha Special Dense Forest Reserve, Central African Republic. © Fiona Rogers/Getty

Learn more about gorillas: 

Eurasian badger (Meles meles)

European badger cub in Ashdown Forest, Sussex, England. © James Warwick/Getty

European badger cub in Ashdown Forest, Sussex, England. © James Warwick/Getty

Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta)

A female spotted hyena with her young cub standing on top of her, Khwai River, Botswana. © Jami Tarris/Getty

A female spotted hyena with her young cub standing on top of her, Khwai River, Botswana. © Jami Tarris/Getty

Pine marten (Martes martes)

A pine marten standing on a mossy mound in the Highlands of Scotland, UK. © Sandra Standbridge/Getty

A pine marten standing on a mossy mound in the Highlands of Scotland, UK. © Sandra Standbridge/Getty

Learn more about pine martens: 

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Red fox at the edge of Ashdown Forest, Sussex, England, UK. © James Warwick/Getty

Red fox at the edge of Ashdown Forest, Sussex, England, UK. © James Warwick/Getty

Fallow deer (Dama dama)

A male fallow deer (buck) and a female (doe). © Alan Tunnicliffe Photography/Getty

A male fallow deer (buck) and a female (doe). © Alan Tunnicliffe Photography/Getty

Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus)

A male (buck) roe deer among wildflowers on the Rudge Hill Nature Reserve, The Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, UK. © Peter Llewellyn/Getty

A male (buck) roe deer among wildflowers on the Rudge Hill Nature Reserve, The Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, UK. © Peter Llewellyn/Getty

Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx)

Eurasian lynx (in mainland Europe) hunting during winter. © Arterra/UIG/Getty

Eurasian lynx (in mainland Europe) hunting during winter. © Arterra/UIG/Getty

Learn more about lynx in Europe:

Edible dormouse (Glis glis), also known as fat dormouse

An edible dormouse, in Italy. © Getty

An edible dormouse, in Italy. © Getty

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