Photo: Scientific names prevent confusion among taxonomists (Ann Jones)
Putting a name on a new species is one of the most exciting parts of taxonomic research, but also one of the most important because — unlike common names — a scientific name is unique to one species. But how are they decided?
What are the rules?
Let's say that an Australian bird scientist — an ornithologist — is talking with a researcher in Europe about magpies.
But which magpies are they talking about: the Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen) or the Eurasian magpie (Pica pica)?
By using the scientific name, two scientists on opposite sides of the world can know for a fact that they're talking about the same species.
But naming a new species comes with some big challenges. There are about 8.6 million species in the world and we've only named 1.2 million of them.
That's a lot of creatures and a lot of names to keep track of, so we need some rules of thumb.
Photo: Other than convention, there's no requirement for scientific names to be in Latin (Wikimedia Commons)
The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature dictates how new animal species are named, but their guide is an 18-chapter doorstop.
Here's a much shorter, step-by-step guide to naming this creature.
There are some rules you must follow when naming a new species:
- The name must be unique. The combination of genus name and species name cannot have been used for any other animal. You're naming a new species of the genus Moridilla, so once you've come up with an idea for a species name try googling it: Moridilla X. If it's entirely new then you're good to go.
- The name can't be rude. The ICZN states that no name should give offence on any grounds. Historically, some scientists waged war on each other this way, but that's no excuse so just play nice.
- You can't name the species after yourself. Nobody — and I mean nobody — names a species after themselves. It's tacky!