Goniopora lobata is commonly called both
250 Natural Reef Aquariums described by a biologist has but one scientific name, and this name is used throughout the world to refer to that particular organism. So whether one is in Bangkok or Boise, Goniopora lobata refers to the same animal. Conversely, "Flowerpot Coral" could mean something entirely different to two individuals, depending upon local usage.
As aquarists gain more experience with maintaining marine fish and invertebrates and share their observations with each other, the importance of having a precise understanding about just which organism is being discussed can hardly be overestimated. Many times a species that is easy to keep has a relative that is similar in appearance but is challenging or impossible to maintain. The large family of butterflyfishes is a perfect example; knowing and being able to use the correct scientific name can be a powerful aid in avoiding those species within a given family that are doomed in most aquariums.
Each scientific name consists of two parts. The first part identifies the genus (plural, genera), or group, to which the organism belongs. Thus, For-cipiger flavissimus and Forcipiger longirostris are two species of butterflyfishes within the same genus. The second part of the name identifies the species. F. longirostris is thus "the long-snouted forceps-carrier." (Indeed, the snout of this butterflyfish is much longer than that of the Long-nosed Butterflyfish, F. flavissimus.) Taken together, the two parts of the scientific name identify a specific organism.
Several rules apply to the use of scientific names:
1) The genus name can stand alone to represent all members of the genus, e.g., Forcipiger. However, the species name can never stand alone. For example, flavissimus, by itself, is meaningless unless both parties to the conversation or communication know the context.
2) The genus and species names are always italicized. The genus is capitalized and the species name is always begun with a lower-case letter.
3) When a list of species within a single genus is being presented, the generic name is spelled out the first time it is used. Thereafter, it may be abbreviated, as in "Forcipiger flavissimus and F. longirostris both occur in the Indo-Pacific."
4) Biologists group genera to form families. Family groupings are often convenient for the aquarist, since members of a given family share similar traits. Family names are capitalized, but not italicized, and always end in "idae." The family name is taken from the generic name of the most common or best known member of the family. Thus, the butterflyfish family is Chaetodontidae, from Chaetodon, the genus to which most butterflyfishes are assigned. Forcipiger also belongs to this family, along with Chelmon, Chelmonops, Coradion, He-niochus, Hemitaurichthys, and all other genera of butterflyfishes.
Forcipiger flavissimus, commonly known as the Long-nosed Butterflyfish.
Apart from the elimination of confusion, scientific names can, if understood, supply valuable information about the organisms to which they refer. The Long-nosed Butterflyfish's name, Forcipiger flavissimus, means "the most-yellow for-ceps-carrier."
Several conventional methods are used by biologists to create scientific names. Knowledge of these may help the aquarist in understanding something about the organism and may make pronunciation easier. Often, an organism is named in honor of a person. The species name ends in "i" if the honoree was male, or "ae" if the honoree was female. Periclimenes peder-soni, thus, is the name for Peder-son's Cleaning Shrimp. The "i" always carries the long vowel sound, i.e., "PEE-der-sun-eye," and the "ae" ending is always pronounced as a long "e," as in Al-lomicrodesmis dorotheae ("Dorothea's fish that is similar to Microdesmis"), where the species name is pronounced "door-o-THEE-ee." The place where the species was discovered may be used in the name, and this is usually indicated by the ending "ensis." The species Pomachromis guamensis, therefore, is found around Guam, and is pronounced "GUAM-en-sis."
Beyond clear communication, a further goal of taxonomy is to bring a sense of order to the seemingly chaotic profusion of organisms that have evolved on our planet. Even the process of naming species is a process of describing relationships, as species are grouped into genera, genera into families, and families into larger and larger groups, called taxa, according to these steps: Species Genus Family Order Class Phylum Kingdom
With each successive step, the taxon becomes more encompassing. When a particular line of development is especially rich in diversity, intermediate taxa — such as subclass, superorder, or tribe — are included. Plotting the pattern of relationships for an organism creates a "phylogenetic tree" — the story of the descent of that particular organism, or rather its genes, through time.
For the beginning marine aquarist, taxonomic names and relationships can seem bewildering and intimidating. In time, you will come to appreciate how all of this can make you a better aquarist and enrich your enjoyment of this hobby. "To the dull mind," Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "nature is leaden. To the illumined mind, the whole world burns and sparkles with light." For those of us who spend our lives working with and contemplating the world of the coral reef, taxonomy is part of what enlightens us and helps us see this sparkling world with greater clarity and deeper appreciation.
Forcipiger longirostris, commonly known as the Black Long-nosed Butterflyfish.
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