Scientific names


Scientific names are used to prevent confusion over which species is being referred to. There are strict rules regarding the naming of species which prevents them from being named the same thing or more than once. Scientific names given to species are in the main written in Latin and or Greek. These names may look complicated and uninteresting but once translated many of them make perfect sense and are actually quite fun.

A system called binomial nomenclature is the process where a species is given a two part name. The first, the genus, demonstrates how closley related certain species are. The second part, the specific name, is used to single out these individuals that have common characteristics but are distinct.

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The bushveld rain frog is short and rounded with a small head, so much so it is hard to differentiate it from its body. This gives rise to the scientific name, Breviceps which means “short head”.

The scientific name for the bat-eared fox is Otocyon megalotis, in Greek “megalotis” means “large eared”.

The genus, “giraffa” originates from the Arabic word, “zarafa” which means to hurry. This in turn led to the noun, one who walks swiftly. The Latin species name, “Camelopardalis” means camel-like-leopard. This is because giraffe walk like a camel (right feet then left feet) and has a similar colouration to a leopard (pardalis).

The honey badger is one of the only mammals to eat bee larvae and honey which gives rise to its scientific name, “Mellivora” which translates as “honey eater”. Mel means “honey”, and voro means “to devour”.

Wild dogs are Africa’s version of the wolf. The scientific name Lycaon pictus means “painted wolf”.

The scientific name of the bateleur describes the bird as having a beautiful face but with no tail. The genus, Terathopius, means “marvellous face” and the species name, ecauadatus, means “without tail”

The species name, cynocephalus, means “dog-headed” referring to the baboon’s appearance.

Sciuridae is the name used in science to describe the squirrel family. This is derived from the Latin word skiouros which means shady tail. This refers to the fact that some species of squirrel will shelter under their own tail.