Guest Author - Catherine Ebey
Since a few of my other articles mention phylogeny (also known as cladistics) I would like to go over the classic system of biological classification: binomial nomenclature. Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus founded this method of scientific classification in 1735 when he published Systema Naturae while studying at the university in the Netherlands.
Linnaeus continued to revise his work as he continued his studies in living organisms and scientists still use his taxonomy method today. Linnaeus’s system of taxonomy is based on a hierarchy of categories including kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species. A fun mnemonic to remember this order is: Kids Playing Catch On Freeways Get Smashed. The categories are listed in descending order of broadness of scope. The largest and most basic classification is the kingdom an organism resides in.
Linnaeus’ two original kingdoms were animalia and vegetabilia. Scientists have expanded these into six kingdoms used today including archaebacteria, monera, protista, mycota, plantae and animalia. These kingdoms house all of the organisms that have been discovered and they are further broken down into the other six subcategories within each kingdom.
Organisms categorized by this method are given a double name of the genus they belong to and the individual species. For example, the domestic cat is named Felis Catus. Felis is the genus the cat belongs to and the domestic cat species is catus.
Typically, the genus name is capitalized and the species name is not capitalized. Both words are usually set in italics: Felis catus. Sometimes scientists abbreviate scientific names by only putting the first letter of the genus name followed by the species name: F. catus.
These scientific names are typically derived from Latin leading some scientists to call the scientific name the “Latin name.” Because some names are derived from Greek or the name of the scientist who discovered that species the term “scientific name” is preferred.
For an excellent database of Linnaean nomenclature of plants, visit the Natural History Museum’s Linnaean Plant Name Typification Project. Another excellent place to find scientific names is the Integrated Taxonomic Information System. This site contains organisms from all of the Linnaean kingdoms. It also has an advanced search tool that allows you to search for organisms based on limited knowledge of the scientific name all the way to knowing the exact organism name.
Play around with these taxonomy databases. Draw up a sheet of the identifiable animals and plants around your house and try to find the scientific names of these organisms.