A Guide to Understanding Animals Scientific Names

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"A Guide to Understanding Animals Scientific Names"
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Scientific names are those big Latin words you see next to the common names for different animals. They are often difficult to pronounce, much less understand for the average person. They do have a purpose, however. Animals (and other things) are given scientific names, called "Latin names or taxonomic names" so they can be recognized as belonging in a category. The system of categories is called taxonomy.

The real purpose of these names, besides categorizing the animal, is so that those who study or work with animals can all have a name that all of them will know. It gives a common language to zoologists as they study animals. Even though it is not common in the sense that we all understand it, it is common in the sense that all zoologists () understand it. If they only used common names, like owl or hawk for instance, the name would be different for different people. Then there are barn owls, and hoot owls, that would be very confusing for everyone!

The reason scientific names are in Latin or Greek is that the system of categorizing animals was started by "Carolus Linnaeus" in the 1700s. At that time, Latin and Greek were the languages "used for literature and science". They occasionally have words that are a different language, but most of them have followed this pattern.

There are several words in a scientific name for a reason, and they tell you something about the animal. The first word tells the animal's genus, or what group belongs to. The second word tells its species, or the "specific animal in that group". The third word (common name) denotes the animal's subspecies, or what they have in common with other animals of this variety. They tell you how this animal relates to other animals.

Scientific names can describe an animal, tell "where it is found", "who discovered it" or it may "honor another scientist". One example of the descriptive nature of a scientific name is the "Dendrobates azureus". It is a poison frog, and it's name means "blue tree-walker". From this, we can see that is blue, or mostly blue, and that it walks in trees!

Understanding why we have scientific names can help us realize why they are important. It gives us a way to place animals and more into specific groups that everyone understands. So, don't let the big words scare you off, instead, learn to use them to understand the environment you live in.


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