The Structure of Scientific Names

There are a few rules of style and form helpful in interpreting scientific names. The genus part of a binomen is always capitalized, but the species epithet never is (even if derived from a proper noun, such as a country or a person's name). Traditionally, binomens are always italicized, but higher taxa are usually not.

Many of the taxa above the genus-level have a standardized suffix, which helps clarify what level of classification is being considered. Some of these suffixes also have less formal equivalents. The following table lists formal and informal suffixes for three key taxa used throughout this book:

Taxon  Formal Suffix Informal Suffix
Order -iformes -oid
Family -idae -id
Subfamily -inae -inine

Therefore, Lamniformes represents a larger grouping than Lamnidae (all sharks of the family Lamnidae are members of the order Lamniformes, but not all Lamniformes are members of Lamnidae). It is therefore important to be able to distinguish not only between Lamniformes, and Lamnidae, but also lamnoids and lamnids. Confused? Don't be. With a little practice, anyone can learn to switch among these suffixes both quickly and accurately.


ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research
Text and illustrations R. Aidan Martin
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