Home | Tag Archives: Naming Aquarium Fish

Tag Archives: Naming Aquarium Fish

Feed Subscription

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

Click here to view the first part of this article: Latin 101: The Aquarium Fish and Invertebrates Scientific Naming Game – Part 1

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,


Latin 101: The Aquarium Fish and Invertebrates Scientific Naming Game – Part 1

Please welcome back Eileen with another excellent post.

What do you call the fizzy, carbonated drinks sold in cans and bottles and out of vending machines by companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi? Soda? Pop? Cola?

What about the athletic shoes made by companies like Nike and Reebok? Sneakers? Trainers? Tennis shoes?

Paracanthurus hepatus is known by many different common namesOr, more importantly for aquarists like us, what type of fish was “Dory” in the Disney movie Finding Nemo? If you say Blue Tang, Hippo Tang, Palette Tang, Regal Tang, Flagtail Surgeonfish, or Pacific Blue Surgeonfish, you aren’t wrong.

Just like people from different areas can’t agree on what to call their drinks or shoes, aquarists have lots of different opinions on what to call the fish and invertebrates in our aquariums. These “common names” are just nicknames that we as hobbyists use to identify the animals that we keep. So how do we know that we’re all talking about the same fish when we talk to other hobbyists that might even come from another country or speak another language? Do we pull out a portable DVD player and point to the screen every time?

Enter the Binominal Nomenclature System…the dreaded “scientific names” that we see written in italics in every aquarium guide and identification book we read. No matter what language we speak or what part of the world we are from, every picture of that bright blue fish with the black markings and yellow tail will undoubtedly say the same thing under it….Paracanthus hepatus. Understanding how this system works and how we can use it to our benefit is helpful to every level of aquarist.

A Brief History

This system of classifying and naming every plant and animal discovered started with a family of scientists in the 16th century but didn’t truly begin to gain in popularity and use until a 18th century Swedish botanist by the name of Carolus Linnaeus began to assign a two-part name to every plant, animal or mineral that was discovered. The names were created based on the animals appearance or behavior as they observed it at the time. Even now, some of Linnaeus’s original classifications still stand even though many have been amended as knowledge about the organisms has increased.

One things that hasn’t changed is the Latin Linnaeus used to start his naming system. Latin was already a dead language by the time Linnaeus started using it. No one spoke it in everyday life and only those who were educated in universities had a working knowledge of it. This unpopularity and relative uselessness of the language was what actually made it perfect for scientific use. Using a language that wasn’t used every day means that it won’t change a whole lot. Think back to any classic English works that you might remember like Shakespeare and then think back to a magazine or newspaper that you read last week (or like this blog you’re reading right now, for that matter). Do they sound the same? Language changes and evolves through time but using a language that essentially hasn’t been used since the time of Caesar and the gladiators means that it isn’t going to go through a whole lot more evolving. Latin is also not a national language of any country around the world, then or now, so it is more likely to be accepted by everyone while if the naming system was based on a specific country’s national language, any countries who aren’t too fond of that nation aren’t as likely to use and accept it.

How It Works

Every creature on Earth is classified into one of 3 Kingdoms – Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukarya (this last Kingdom was adopted in the 1990s to combine four other Kingdoms -Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, and Protista). From there, the classifications are broken down further into a Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species. Aquarists and hobbyists primarily use the last of these ranks – Family, Genus, and Species – so that is what we’ll focus on here.

The Family is one of the first ranks where it usually becomes obvious that all the fish in the group are all related. In some of the higher ranks, the similarities may be so vague that it might be hard to tell how two things are related just by looking at them. A Family (usually ending in -ae, by the way) would include all of the fish we commonly know as Tangs or Surgeonfish, for example, although we can still see that a Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) is visibly different in body shape from a Hippo Tang (Paracanthurus hepatus). We can tell that if we have a fish with a scalpel-like spine at the base of its tail, a generally teardrop-shaped body, a mouth designed for algae grazing and a flattened body is probably in the Family Acanthuridae with other tangs and Surgeonfish, even if we don’t know yet if it is in the genus Zebrasoma, Acanthurus, Paracanthurus, or Naso.

After the Family, the genus (“genera” in the plural form) is the next level of classification and where we start getting very specific about the identification of an organism as it applied to the aquarium hobby. The genus is the first part of the two-word scientific name. In Rhinecanthus aculeauts, most commonly known as the Picasso Triggerfish, “Rhinecanthus” is the name of the genus which also includes the Bursa Trigger, Huma Huma Trigger, and Rectangle Trigger. At this level, we still can’t point to a fish and know exactly what it is from the genus it is in, but aquarists can typically make some important generalizations about a fish by becoming familiar with the genera commonly available in the aquarium trade. By looking at the genus of a triggerfish, we can usually tell if it is probably going to be a super-aggressive powerhouse (Balistes, Balistoides, Rhinecanthus) or if it will be a more docile, Reef-safe addition (Xanthichthys, Melichthys, Odonus). Genera can lead to some confusion however; as our knowledge of organisms grows, the genus classification is the most likely level to change. This is especially seen in African cichlids. Genera are being added and modified regularly as fish that were once thought of as color variations of the same fish are being classified as new species altogether.

Check back on Wednesday for the conclusion of Eileen’s article.