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Science as Leisure

Liz Marchio

I am a trained ichthyologist interested in what gets people interested in natural history, biological sciences, and science careers. My passion is to find out what fuels curiosity for the natural world.

Biology-related serious leisure activities can impact people's interest in ecology, biology, and natural history. Do these activities promote biological understanding? If so, how does that progress and to what level does it progress to? 

If you're interested in a starting a dialogue, please feel free to contact me. If you're curious about how I got here, my story can be found on the About Me page.


Understanding the Scientific Names of Fish Part Deaux

Scientific names seem to be in some kind of code. Where do these names come from? Do they mean things? Let's find out!


First of all, these names do come from somewhere. Most scientific names come from Latin, Greek or a mixture of both. Remember, a "scientific name" is any scientific name but primarily refers to 2 words - the first is the Genus the second is the Species.

Aside: All scientific names (or nomenclature) have the same rules applied. However, when I say "scientific name" I am usually referring to Genus-Species but the rules apply to any scientific nomenclature (nomen = name, clature =call; thus = "name calling" and applicable to any classification level for organisms). 

So why Greek and Latin names? Well, back in the day people who spoke these languages began the classification of life on Earth. So, ya know, they got to make the rules. They thought Greek and Latin were the shit, so they chose them to represent all of life on Earth. ANYWAY...

The cool thing about learning Greek and/or Latin words is that they mean something in English. No shit, but follow me here.. This scientific naming "code" is actually a simple translation of one language to another. Greek/Latin words to parts of English words. Sounds hard but the cool thing is scientists stuck to descriptive words (mostly). Like "yellow" or "striped".Lucky for us many previous taxonomists chose words that described the organisms! Here's a common fish for an example.


Seriously, let's think about this. These people made scientific names descriptive and didn't just name them after their bestest best friend. Or a politician. Or a rock'n'roll band. Or their dog. Taxonomist's name species practically. So, when you see a scientific name, you can probably figure out what actual organism they are referring to! For the above example, what organism is a fish with a beautiful belly? Well, maybe there are many with sexy bellies and many fish that are subjectively beautiful, BUT this one was described on it's beautiful belly so it must be noteworthy (or a "field marking"). So what fish did you guess...???


BAM. There you go! A fish with a damn nice looking belly. And guess what? This species seems to be named after major FEMALE characteristics! This is pretty uncommon, seemingly, since species are normally described by the MALE. Ain't that some shit? Females do a lot of work but the guys get the cred. O'm sure it has *nothing* to do with who describes the organisms (which has been MALE dominated).

BUT you see, you got this! Fish with a beautiful belly is a kribensis. You could name fish yourself; it's just that easy! The next coolest part is that many of the names used in scientific naming are redundant (repeated). "Pulcher" is fairly commonly used. Remember the commonly occurring names and you will find it even easier to figure out what organism is what. Kinda cool, huh? Let's try another fish. This time, an Order. Cyprinodontiformes. 


Whenever you see one scientific name ending in "-iformes", it's an Order. A Family classification ends in "-idae", like Cichlidae. Remembering the ending of some of these words will be helpful. 

So we know with -iformes we have an Order, NOT a genus/genera or a species. I also said it was fish so you know it's a fish Order. These hints can help! Mainly because "Cyprin" refers to goldfish (i.e. carp-like fishes). These fish are like carp. But... OK... how? Well, "odont" or "dont" means tooth. These fish have goldfish teeth! But not literally.... the suffix (end of the word) "-iformes" means form... so it's relative. The fish in the Order Cyprinodontiformes have teeth in a form similar to goldfish! And if you didn't know... many Cyprinodontiformes are called "toothcarp"; linking the goldfish (carp) and teeth. 

So... feeling any better about understanding scientific names? Let me know! 


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