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.
Anthrax fly (Anthrax anthrax)
Learn more about bee-flies:
Goat moth (Cossus cossus)
Learn more about moths:
By-the-wind sailor (Velella vellela)
Short-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus hippocampus)
European eel (Anguilla anguilla)
European toad (Bufo bufo), also known as common toad
Learn more about toads:
Green iguana (Iguana iguana)
Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)
Black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa)
Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
European goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
Red kite (Milvus milvus)
Whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus)
Eurasian magpie (Pica pica)
Little auk (Alle alle)
Eurasian crane (Grus grus), also known as common crane
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)
Lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla)
- Triple tautonym: Western lowland gorilla (G. g. gorilla)