Site hosted by Build your free website today!


The Herps of LaCrosse

Living With Herps

Easy Herp Monitoring

Herps as Pets

General Herp Info

Suggested Reading and Bibliography


About Me and Contact Info

Notes on Scientific Names and Taxonomy


        What are those words written in italics below each animal's name?!  

Those words are what is referred to as the animals' "scientific name". 


What are the purpose of "scientific names"?!

Good question.  Scientific names are important in Taxonomy.  They were designed hundreds of years ago to help researchers group organisms by how they are related.  

In addition, the common names of certain animals can vary depending on where you live in the U.S.  Therefore, scientific names can be important in determining species.  For example, Crotalus horridus is the scientific name for a rattlesnake species found around LaCrosse.  In Wisconsin, the common name for this snake is "Timber Rattlesnake".  On the other hand, in southern portions of their range they are called "Canebrakes" or "Canebrakers".  Additionally, in other parts of North America, they are referred to as "Velvet Tails", and "Banded Rattlesnakes".  However, no matter where you are in the U.S., the scientific name for the Timber Rattlesnake is Crotalus horridus.  This allows people who study these snakes to be on the same page no matter where they research them (i.e., be it Wisconsin or Georgia).


What is Taxonomy?

In High School you probably learned a little about taxonomy with these words:

Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.

Remember that?  These words (or classifications) are a means by which the relationship among organisms can be determined (plants, protozoans, animals, etc.).  As we move down this list, we get more specific about the organisms we are referring to.  

    For example, one of the broadest classifications is "Kingdom".  All animals belong to the Kingdom: Animalia.  Plants have their own separate kingdom, as do amoebas.  Next, let's look at Phylum.  The Kingdom: Animalia has several different Phylums.  Animals with backbones, for example, belong to the Phylum: Chordata.  On the other hand, animals with no back bones (such as insects and jellyfish) belong to a different phylum. Make sense?  Okay, one more example.  Take it one step further and look at Class.  Animals that belong in the Phylum: Chordata can be divided up into several different Classes.  Mammals belong to the Class: Mammalia, snakes belong to the Class: Reptilia, and so on.  Get the picture?  

Now let's look at the grand scheme of things using humans as an example:

    Common Name: Humans
Scientific Name:
Homo sapiens

Kingdom: Animalia 

We are, after all, animals and not plants.  Plants have their own Kingdom name.

Phylum: Chordata 

This refers to our back-bone, as opposed to animals that have no back bones, such as insects.

Class: Mammalia

We are warm-blooded, or mammals, and not frogs, which are members of the Class Amphibia.

Order: Primates

We are, essentially, apes (much like gorillas).  All apes are primates.

Family: Hominidae

We are apes that walk upright (unlike gorillas).

Genus: Homo

Species: sapiens

Our evolutionary predecessors were homonids that had scientific names like Homo erectus.  They belonged to the same Genus as we (Homo) but are not the same species (sapiens).

Make Sense?  So the scientific name for humans is Homo sapiens.  By our Kingdom, Phylum, Class, and Order designations, we can see that Homo sapiens are distantly related to Primates, which are also mammalian animals with back bones (Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Chordata, Class: Mammalia, Order: Primates)


Okay, now look at another example: 
the Northern Leopard Frog.

Common Name: Northern Leopard Frog. 

Scientific Name: Rana pipiens

Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Chordata, Class: Amphibia, Order: Anura (frogs and toads), Family: Ranidae (true frogs, unlike treefrogs), Genus: Rana, Species: pipiens.

   Can you look at these classifications and see where humans are similar and not so similar to leopard frogs? 

You can see that, like us, the northern leopard frog is an animal (Kingdom: Animalia), and it has a back-bone (Phylum: Chordata).  However, it isn't a mammal, but an amphibian (Class: Amphibia).

As far as genus and species (Rana pipiens) goes, there are other frogs in Wisconsin that are closely related to leopard frogs.  Take, for example, Green Frogs.  The scientific name for Green Frogs is Rana clamitans.  Therefore, you can tell that Green Frogs are related to Leopard Frogs.  So much so, that they are members of the same Genus (Rana).  However, Green Frogs obviously are a different species than Leopard Frogs (clamitans and not pipiens

Now look at the species accounts in the "Herps of LaCrosse" section and see if you can determine which species within the LaCrosse area are most closely related!


Back to General Herpetological Info.