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Latin 101: The Aquarium Fish and Invertebrates Scientific Naming Game – Part 2

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The next part of the scientific name, the species name, is often the most descriptive and specific part of the name. While a genus can still contain hundreds of organisms, the species name for each of these organisms must be unique. It can describe where the fish comes from (orientalis, americanus, chilensis), a person (axelrodi, scottorum, springeri), a color or coloration (caeruleus, albus, puncatus), or a combination of these. Sometimes you may see “spp.” or “ssp.” listed instead of a species name. These abbreviations denote a subspecies (ssp.) or multiple species (spp.). A subspecies may be a variant of specific species that is different enough from the “standard” species to be distinguished, but not different enough to be considered a completely different species altogether. This abbreviation is used mainly with plants, but it occassionally comes up with fish and invertebrates as well. The multiple species abbreviation is used when more than one species is being referred to. For example, in our store you may see sections of assorted Acropora corals labelled as “Acropora spp.” since it may include Acropora tenius, Acropora formosa, Acropora valida and others. Knowing the species name can help aquarists when referring to fish that are very close in appearance

Sailfin Tang

but are different species (like the Sailfin Tang, Zebrasoma veliferum, and the Desjardin’s Tang, Zebrasoma desjardini) or fish with the same common name (like Amblygobius phalaena and Gobioides broussonette, a saltwater fish and a brackish water fish both known as the “Dragon Goby”).

Common Prefixes and Suffixes

There are some basic prefixes and suffixes that show up in a lot of scientific names, especially in the genus name. Some are more obvious than others, but having a working knowledge of what some of these mean makes remembering the scientific name and connecting it with the fish it describes a lot easier. The prefixes generally fall into the following categories:

Shape/Size – These normally act as suffixes in the genus or species name to describe the size and shape of an organism or the size of an organism:

brachy short
brevis, brevy short
grandis large
macro big, large
micro small
platy flat

Some examples: Brachygobius xanthozona (Bumblebee Goby), Macrodactyla doreensis (Long-tentacle Anemone), Platydoras costatus (Striped Raphael Catfish)

Color: The color descriptive is normally in the species name of an organism. It can be used to describe the organism as a whole or a feature on the organism like a stripe or spots.

aureus gold fuscus dark brown
albus white glauc, glauco grey, bluish-grey
auranti orange leucos white
caeruleus blue melano, melas black, dark
chloros, chloro green nigra, niger, nigrum black
chromis color, colorful porphyr, purpur purple
chryseus, chrys golden yellow rubens, ruber red
cyano blue-green viridis green
erythro red xanthos yellow
flavi, flavus light yellow

Some examples: Pomacanthus chrysurus (Goldtail Angel), Cirrhilabrus cyanopleura (Bluesided Fairy Wrasse), Amblyglyphidodon aureus (Golden Damsel)

Patterns/Markings: These are typically species descriptives as well and can often be used with color descriptives.

astro, astero star
fasciata banded
fimbri, fimbria edge, border
guttatus spotted, speckles
lineatus striped, lined
maculatus spotted, blotched
notat marked
ornatus ornate, fancy
punctata spotted, spots
striata, stratus striped
taenia band, ribbon
variegat striped, variegated

Some examples: Amblyeleotris guttata (Orange Spot Prawn Goby), Chaetodon unimaculatus (Teardrop Butterfly), Corydoras punctatus (Spotfin Cory)

Parts of the Body: These are hardly ever used alone. They typically follow or are followed by other descriptives to specify a feature of that body part, like a long nose or white stomach.

caudatailodon, odustooth

cephale, cepsheadopsface


dermaskinpinniwing, fin

dorsal, dorsalisbackpod, pedfoot

gasterbellyrhyncho, rhynchusnose, snout

gnath, gnathusjawrostrasnout, beak

nasinoseventralbelly, stomach

Some examples: Opistognathus aurifrons (Yellowhead Jawfish), Centropyge flavicauda (Whitetail Pygmy Angel), Centropyge flavipectoralis (Yellowfin Pygmy Angel)

Numbers: These are usually used to refer to the number of a feature of a fish (spots, stripes, etc.)

mono, unione, single

diplo, di, bitwo, double

tres, tris, trithree, triple

tetra, quadfour


hexa, hexsix


octo, octaeight

ennea, nonanine



Some examples: Pseudocheilinus hexataenia (Sixline Wrasse), Centropyge bicolor (Bicolor Pygmy Angel), Octopus vulgaris (Common Octopus)

Other Common Descriptors: It is impossible to list all the words and roots you may come across, but here are a few more common roots, prefixes and suffixes that tend to appear in common aquarium organisms.

echino spiny ichthys fish
acanth spine, thorny neo new, recent
crypt hidden opsis appearance
geo earth para near, close to
haplo simple phago eating
hyper over pseudo fake, false
hypo under -ensis originating from

Some examples: Geophagus brasiliensis (Pearlscale Eartheater), Neocirrhitus armatus (Flame Hawkfish), Pseudochromis flavivertex (Sunrise Dottyback), Parachromis dovii (Wolf Cichlid), Tanichthys albonubes (White Cloud Mountain Minnow), Echinoderms (all sea urchins and sea stars, meaning “spiny spined”)

Just for Fun

Now that you know the basics, these names are just for fun. Some have fun meanings, others are puns and some we just like to say. The names listed here are just from the aquatic world – there are countless others from the animal and plant worlds that you can discover on your own. Impress your friends with your new little bits of trivia and mastery of the Latin language…

Abra cadabra
This is actually a clam that has been moved to a new genus, but we all know the scientists who originally named it had a sense of humor. Or he just liked magic.

Bidenichthys beeblebroxi and Fiordichthys slartibartfasti
Both are small triplefin blennies and yes, they are both named after characters in A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Bufonaria borisbeckeri
This is actually a species of sea snail. Yes, it is named after the tennis star.

Busycon canaliculatus
The Channeled Whelk. Another one that’s just fun to say.

Callinectes sapidus
Otherwise known as the Blue Crab, the favorite food along the Chesapeake Bay area. The name in Latin actually means “Beautiful swimmer that is tasty”. Obviously, they were seafood fans.

Gammaracanthuskytodermogammarus lorictobaecalensis
This was the longest scientific name on record, but was banned from official use internationally. It was for an amphipod – a microscopic crustacean.

This genus of snails is, surprisingly enough, smaller than those from the genus Bittium.

Trilobites were a class of crustaceans that went extinct about 250 million years ago but are very popular fossils. There are currently trilobites named after the bands the Sex Pistols (Arcticalymene viciousi, A. rotteni, A. jonesi, A cooki, and A. matlocki), the Rolling Stones (Aegrotocatellus jaggeri and Perirehaedulus richardsi), the Ramones (Mackenziurus johnnyi, M. joeyi, M. deedeei, M. ceejayi) and the Beatles (Avalanchurus lennoni, A. starri, and Struszia mccartneyi). The genus in one of these names, Aegrotocatellus, also literally means “sick puppy”.

Uca pugnax
The common Fiddler Crab. No fun meaning behind it, it just happens to be one of our favorites to say.

Vampyroteuthis infernalis
The scientific name for a species of deep-sea squid. Literally, it means “vampire squid from Hell.” It is harmless to humans, but its appearances makes the name seem fitting.

Thanks Eileen,

Until Next time,


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About Eileen Daub

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Marine Biologist/Aquatic Husbandry Manager I was one of those kids who said "I want to be a marine biologist when I grow up!"....except then I actually became one. After a brief time at the United States Coast Guard Academy, I graduated from Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 2004. Since then, I've been a marine biologist at That Fish Place - That Pet Place, along with a Fish Room supervisor, copywriter, livestock inventory controller, livestock mail-order supervisor and other duties here and there. I also spent eight seasons as a professional actress with the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and in other local roles. If that isn't bad enough, I'm a proud Crazy Hockey Fan (go Flyers and go Hershey Bears!).