go to the Tree of Life home page

Attaching Your Work

Help with Scientific Names

Learning the scientific name of an organism will help you find more information on that group and attach your media file or treehouse page to the right place on the Tree of Life.

What is a scientific name?

The scientific name of an organism is written in Latin and in some ways reflects the relationship of that species with other Life on Earth. A scientific name for a species is a unique name, which means that no species can have the same scientific name. The scientific name of a species tells you the genus and the species name of an organism. The genus comes first in the name and is the more inclusive group of organisms. For example, in the species name Kinosternon arizonense, the first word, Kinosternon is the genus that the species arizonense belongs to. The genus is the more inclusive group of organisms. You can see from looking at the scientific names in the list below that each species is part of the genus Kinosternidae (in the singular form written as Kinosternon).

By using scientific names, a scientist in Ethiopia studying different types of mud turtles can communicate with a scientist in Russia, and both scientists will know exactly what species the other person is talking about. If scientists only used common names, which are different all over the world, according to language, culture and geography, it would be very difficult to communicate effectively. For example, in the case of the Russian and Ethiopian scientists studying Kinosternidae (common name, Mud turtles), the two scientists could be unaware that they are studying the same mud turtle if in their cultures and languages they use different names for the same turtle!

What is a common name? A common name is a name used for an organism that varies according to place, language and culture. For example, the organism with the scientific name Terrapene carolina has the following common names: common box turtle (English), eastern box turtle (English), tortue tabatière (French), Tortuga de Carolina (Spanish).

Ways to search for scientific names

Please note, that the ToL does not have branch or leaf page for every organism on the planet. Therefore, when you are looking for the scientific name of an organism that you are studying, it might be necessary to find out the name of the containing groups as well (e.g. the groups of organisms that the organism you are studying has descended from) in order to attach your page or media to the correct group on the Tree of Life. The following section, Using an organism's taxonomic hierarchy to help you attach your work will help provide more information on how to find out the names of the containing groups of an organism.

For help finding out the scientific name of an organism or the scientific names of its containing groups you can search:

Using an organism's taxonomic hierarchy*
(e.g. species, genus, family, order, class etc.) to help you attach your work.

Sometimes you may know the scientific name of an organism but not be able to find a page for it on the Tree of Life.

For example:
You have a treehouse game about the African Leaffish and you find out by using ITIS (see ways to search above) that the scientific name of the African Leaffish is Polycentropsis abbreviata. However, when you search for this name in the ToL database by doing a group search you find nothing. If this happens what you can do is look at the section called Taxonomic Hierarchy on the ITIS page (see the table below) for Polycentropsis abbreviata, or at a similar section on another site and then follow the steps below.

  1. Search for the species name on the ToL. If you do not find a match on the ToL go to step #2.
  2. Try searching the ToL for the next name up the list, the genus name of the organism. For example, for the group Polycentropsis abbreviata (African Leaffish), the genus name is Polycentropsis Boulenger. If you do not find a match on the ToL go to step #3.
  3. If the genus name doesn't match a group of organisms on the ToL you can move up the list and search on the family name (Polycentridae). If that doesn't get a result on the ToL go to step #4.
  4. Keep moving up the list of names, e.g. the the suborder and order names...up to class and phylum until you find a group on the ToL that matches. Basically, you will continue going up the taxonomic hierarchy for the African Leaffish, or whatever organism you have, until you find a group on the ToL that matches.

In the case of the African Leaffish you would have to search all the way up to the superorder, which is Acanthoptergygii, before you would find a matching group on the ToL. You can attach media to Acanthoptergygii, but you would have to attach a treehouse to the Teleostei page (the containing group for Acanthoptergygii) because the ToL does not yet have an individual page for Acanthoptergygii. As you can see, your searching will take less time if you are trying to attach your work to a section of the ToL that is developed to the species level.

*Please note that taxonomic hierarchies may be different according to where you find the information, and that taxonomic hierarchies for groups of organisms may be different from the genetic connections between organisms shown on the Tree of Life.

The Taxonomic Hierarchy of the Polycentropsis abbreviata (African Leaffish)

The taxonomic hierarchy table below lists the groups that the species Polycentropsis abbreviata (African Leaffish) belongs to. In the second column, the scientific name is listed first, and then the common names are recorded (when available). This information is from the ITIS page for Polycentropsis abbreviata

Kingdom   Animalia -- Animal, animals, animaux
Phylum Chordata  -- chordates, cordado, cordés
Subphylum Vertebrata  -- vertebrado, vertebrates, vertébrés
Superclass Osteichthyes  -- bony fishes, osteíceto, peixe ósseo, poissons osseux
Class Actinopterygii-- poisson épineux, poissons à nageoires rayonnées, ray-finned fishes, spiny rayed fishes
Subclass Neopterygii  -- neopterygians
Infraclass Teleostei 
Superorder Acanthopterygii  
Order Perciformes -- perch-like fishes
Suborder Percoidei 
Family   Polycentridae
Genus Polycentropsis Boulenger, 1901 
Species Polycentropsis abbreviata Boulenger, 1901 -- African leaffish, african leaffish

Building Treehouses

ToL Learning


building treehouses

building for teachers

Builders Toolkit

planning guide

treehouse tools

adding images/media

tips & guidelines