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The Classification of Living Things

Classification and Nomenclature

This website is primarily about photography, but I intend to include additional information about my subjects where possible. The majority of my subjects are living things, whether plant or animal, so it seems reasonable to include the "scientific" name as well as the common name of each species photographed. I am therefore including the following as an overview for anyone who may be interested. The information has been gathered from various sources, some of which were contradictory, but hopefully it makes some sense!

Every species can be identified uniquely by a scientific name within the standard classification system for all living things, the International Code for Zoological and Botanical Nomenclature. I am in no way an expert in this, and I do know how off-putting these mainly Latin-based names can be, but they do have their uses. Scientific nomenclature provides a universal naming methodology that crosses barriers of language and interpretation. Among other things i makes it possible for me to in uniquely identify a species and learn about where and how it lives.

The scientific naming system that is used world-wide today was originally devised by the Swedish naturalist Linnaeus. Linnaeus proposed a two-part naming system with names derived from Latin or Greek. This works in a similar way to the naming system that we use to identify ourselves, with a Last Name (=Genus) and a First Name (=species). The Linnaeus system has since been expanded and modified as new species have been discovered and new ideas developed.

Using this system it is possible to classify any living thing using an hierarchical naming structure that progresses from the general to the specific. In general on my Gallery pages I will be indicating the Family, Genus, Species and Common Name of my subjects.

Category Explanation Butterfly Example Notes
Kingdom The primary classification breakdown of living things. The main Kingdoms are Plants and Animals, but there are others covering algae etc. Animal Many-celled organisms requiring food in the form of organic substances originally created by plants.
Phylum A primary division of the Animal Kingdom. E.g. Arthropoda have jointed limbs and a hard exoskeleton, Chordata have a backbone. Arthropoda Arthropods are animals with jointed limbs and a hard exoskeleton
Class Insects, Reptiles, Mammals, etc Insecta Insects
Order Dogs and cats belong to the order of carnivores Lepidoptera Butterflies, Moths and Skippers1
(or Superfamily)
Butterflies, Skippers1 and Moths2 are sub-orders of Lepidoptera Papilionoidea Butterflies
Family Sharing basic characteristics. Lions, tigers, cheetahs, and house cats belong to the same biological family. Danaidae Predomiantly tropical and sub-tropical species, Danaidae have similar wing shapes and patterning and are slow-flying.
Genus Closely related species. Wolves and dogs are in the same genus, foxes are in the same Family but a different Genus. Danaus3 Tigers or Milkweed butterflies
Species Members of the same species have unique characteristics that they can pass on by interbreeding. Their offspring are of the same species. Members of different but closely related species, can sometimes interbreed, but their mixed-species offspring are usually infertile (e.g. horse + donkey = mule).

Species can be further divided into varieties, races, breeds, or subspecies.

plexippus4 The Monarch Butterfly
Common Name Common or Popular names are easier to understand than Scientific names, but are open to misunderstanding.

Different common names may be used in different areas for the same species, or the same common name may be used for different species in different areas.

Monarch Butterfly Also known as the Milkweed Butterfly

1. Many books class Skippers as "primitive butterflies", but there is a growing argument that they should be considered a separate Order in their own right.

2. There are a number of Moth superfamilies, but "Moths" is usually used as a collective name.

3. Genus names are usually italicised with a capital first letter.

4. Species names are usually italicised and are all lower case.