Monday, November 22, 2010

Why are some species called by their common name and some by their scientific name?

Take the Berania Daggerwing Butterfly for example. In my last blog, I mentioned the species Marpesia berania by scientific name and that it sleeps in groups on a leaf. To find the common name, I had to search for it.

In Wikipedia I found this:
Some common butterflies and moths in Costa Rica include:
This didn't make any sense to me-- “Why are some species called by their common name, and some their scientific name?”, I pondered out loud. Hubby says “Blog number 2?” I’ll need to do some research for this…
My theory is that it is preference, like the difference between one of your friends insisting on being called by his formal name, Fredrick, all the time while your other friend likes to be called Zap, which is a shortened version of his last name. (I don’t know people of these names, I just made that up).

I did ask a few semi-specialists what they thought. Common names vary from place to place mostly because early settlers and natives used descriptive terms, naming things by identifying physical and behavioral characteristics. They needed to name plants they used for food, medicine, building, tools and those which are poisonous. Some plants and animals have several common names and a few have the same common names as other species in different regions. Common names can get confusing sometimes and since the genus name or species name is usually unique and less likely to be similar to common names, biologist sometimes get into the habit of communicating with one part of the scientific name as it can be easier than the full scientific name. Thus, a commonly used genus or species.

HINT: I have always had problems remembering scientific names, even some common names of plant species for that matter, until someone told me that they remember species by introducing themselves, like you would to a person. Use the name several times while having a ‘conversation’ with the species or recalling its unique attributes and then you will know the species. Once it is your friend, you are more likely to remember its name. J

I found a great site from the University of Michigan called Animal Diversity Web.
They also have a kid’s site called BioKIDS.
ADW says, every recognized species on earth (at least in theory) is given a two-part scientific name. This system is called "binomial nomenclature." These names are important because they allow people throughout the world to communicate unambiguously about animal species. This works because there are sets of international rules about how to name animals. Zoologists try to avoid naming the same thing more than once, though this does sometimes happen. These naming rules mean that every scientific name is unique.
Scientific names are also designed to tell you something about the animal's relationships with other animals. The scientific name of each species is made up of a generic name (genus) and a specific name (species).  Species that share the same generic epithet are closely related to each other, more than to any other species.

As with common names, scientific names can be:
Descriptive, suggesting something about the animal.
Bear the name of people who were instrumental in discovering or describing the species
Refer to regions where the species are found.
Reflect the common names given to these animals by native peoples.

My now educated theory is that in this particular case with the Daggerwing Butterfly, Marpesia berania, there must be several common names for this particular species, or the commonly used name is also used to describe different butterflies. Therefore, to identify the correct butterfly one must use the scientific name.

Hey Teachers,

Here is a compilation of middle grade activities and discussion questions about scientific names, identification, classification and dichotomous keys.

Using a dichotomous key
From The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Environmental Education

Making a dichotomous key

Mapping Common Names.

Social Science:
Discussion Question: International rules for naming species.
Why is it important to have a universal system? Why do we use Latin systems?
These are also good questions to ask the students when studying the metric system.

A week long lesson plan. Students research several plants or animals then give multimedia presentations. I particularly like the extension questions.

Writing and Art
Design, create and name your own fish species
Scroll down to activity 5-2; a post activity to USF Fish ecology lesson 5


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