Guide to species names

Back when this all first started we had intended to include common, Māori and scientific names for each species on the cards. Because of space this became impossible so we settled on just the scientific name.  We hope to put together a booklet to accompany the cards. For now we have compiled the following list of common names here (PDF 691KB).Below is a sort of FAQ for interpreting scientific names. It refers to different taxonomic levels which we explain here.

orthodera1.Why are the insects named things like Orthodera novaezealandiae and not New Zealand praying mantis? This is the scientific name for the species which is made up of firstly the animal’s genus and then the species name.

2. Why use scientific names rather than common names for the insects? Newly discovered species are given a unique pair of Latin names but not all species get a common name. For example, Red admiral butterfly refers only to Vanessa gonerilla but the term “cave weta” could refer to any of a range of species. Using the scientific names lets us be more specific about what we are referring to.

3. Why do some insects have one Latin name and then “sp.” at the end? kenocoelusThis is short for “species” (plural is “spp.”). This means that we’re speaking more generally. We used this in a couple situations where we didn’t want to specify exactly which species we were referring to. This was either because the group has a large number of similar looking species or because we only knew a little about a single species but had more information about the whole genus. Given that the information we would be providing would be more general, we decided to be more general in the naming.

4. Why do the Latin names sometimes appear with only the first letter of the first name e.g. D. atroniveaIt’s convention to abbreviate the genus to save space provided that the full species name has already been used once.

5. In the insect descriptions, what do the names and years following the species names refer to e.g. “Carystoterpa fingens (Walker, 1851)”? They identify the person that first published the name of the species and the year when it was published. Sometimes the genus name changes following subsequent discoveries and, in this case, we put brackets around the authority name. This way, we still credit the first person who named it but also acknowledge that the name has since changed.