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FAQs about Taxonomy: Biological Classification

Related Articles: What's In A Name? Ever Wondered Why They Keep Changing the Latin Name of Your Favorite Fish? by Neale Monks Taxonomy,  Biological Classification,

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What is it? And why?

Centropyge deborae      8/15/16
Dear Sir/Madam,
It has been a while since I contacted WWM, but I have just recently discovered, after a friend sent me a link, that the above-mentioned fish was named at WSI, although I have no animosity towards the Smith's, I am a little upset that I personally collected this fish in 1994, before WSI set up in Fiji, and although I thought it was a different fish from the other Centropyges, I was told it may be a variant phase of the coral beauty, it is quite sad that they claim to have discovered it.
<I know of this fish, the Smith's collectors first gathering this new species... It is "the rule" that such namings are "date regulated"; that is, the first "acceptable", "scientific" description and publication stands as the original. I would state that there are VERY likely other Centropyge in mesophotic depths (one can guess more likely areas by a cursive study of
zoogeography), and that for sure there are other Labrid and Anthiine species found about the Great Sea Reef. Consider getting on out, making collections and sending same to folks, institutions that do such "naming".
Cheers, Bob Fenner>
I look forward to hear from you
*Peter Savona*
*Waterlife Exporters (Fiji) Limited*
Re: Centropyge deborae      8/16/16

Hi Peter,
I just got this copied to me from Bob.
I know how frustrating it must be to think you might have discovered something only to find out later that someone else has claimed it.
As Bob points out, it is not about who saw it first but who takes the initiative to go through the long and tedious process of getting it scientifically documented. This process usually takes about two years and many specimens must be supplied to the scientist to insure it is not just a one off or variant. Only after the DNA is conclusive matching it against other closely related species and several samples are provided to prove separate identity can the "new" specimen be named.
In this case there was another famous scientist who also "discovered" this same fish before 1994 when he was a professor at USP. I am talking about Dr. Bruce Carlson and he actually has a video of a pair C. deborae mating which also appears on my web site. Bruce is a good friend of mine and we laugh about how he thought it was different but brushed it off as a variant and instead concentrated on another fish from the same reef which was also a new discovery that later became classified as the Cirrhilabrus marjorie (named after his wife Marj) which was found on the same reef. We often joke about how we both have fish named after our wives found in only one place on earth so far as we know. Up till now this fish has only been associated with Bligh water area so I am curious if your sighting was in Suva bay.
Just recently I thought I had another new discovery only to find out I was looking at a Cirrhilabrus nahackyi and then there is the other angel on my web site that still have not been confirmed as a new specie and some scientist believe it to be a variant and some say otherwise. Take a look at this as I compare it to the C. heraldi for size and swim pattern side by side.
All the best,
<Ahh; thank you for your complete, civil response Walt. Much appreciated.
Oh! And see you and Deb soon here in San Diego at the upcoming MACNA do.
Bob Fenner>
Re: Centropyge Deborae     /Peter       8/18/16

Hey Bob,
How are you, been a while, I hope you are well, truth be told, Walt is a good man, (that is why he is Cc'd as well), and his explanation is fair, yes I do understand in principal, the reasoning, but* I must admit I find it wrong in principal, that a fish is named to anyone other than the diver who collected it, at the very least, and Ideally to the first discoverer
is not the norm!!.*
<Mmm; "dem are da rules"; and makes sense that a "science type" does the naming; as they are responsible for adequately describing. The times I've been involved in such... from collecting, supplying specimens on up; the
"namer" has sought out my input for the name itself.>
I do have a photo somewhere, but I really cannot say much beyond that, as I am not a scientist, or have the money or facility to do such things, maybe if it was in Charles Darwin's time I could have got away with it, lol.
And no Walt it was not in Suva.
Thanks, and regards
Peter Savona
Waterlife Exporters (Fiji) Limited
<Thank you Peter. Hope to see you about. Cheers, Bob Fenner>
Re: Centropyge Deborae    /Walt       8/18/16
Hi Peter,
<Hey Walt, BobF kibitzing here>
Thanks for the nice words.
Not to beat a dead horse but I must point out one simple fact …. Without documented proof of discovery there is no such thing as the one who saw it first. You must realize that even though I believe you to be an honest person there are many who are not. The fact remains that Dr. Bruce Carlson actually saw it first and has documented it on video but he brushed it off as a variant and he is an expert. This actually happens a lot and that is why the proof of finding must be documented so meticulously with spine and scale count (the old way) and in recent years with conclusive DNA testing against other closely related species. I also had to prove that there were no Centropyge nox anywhere in our waters which it so closely resembled. Then multiple specimens needed to be supplied to prove it was not just a one off.
All of this work and effort is supplied by the applicant for classification and the time and effort is very consuming. Finally, when the scientific authority has conclusive proof that it is a different specie they are able to name the fish. The original name picked for this fish was Centropyge fijiensis but they asked me if I would prefer another name and I chose to honor my wife Deborah. Also the fact is that several divers were involved in the collection but they had no idea it was a different specie. I recognized this possibility and the fish “belonged” to me since they were paid by my company so I had the right to follow through with the expensive and time consuming exercise of getting it named.
On another note, if you ever find another fish you believe to be different I will be happy to show you the ropes that I followed and perhaps there is a savonei out there somewhere. :)
<I'm very sure there is/are. I saw a few undescribed species while up in Labasa>
Also, did you spot this in Bligh or up north? It was first sighted by Bruce in Bligh near Namana but we first collected it North West of Raki Raki but we now collect them in Bligh off of Nabawalau. They are very plentiful up there where we collect more than 100 in a day but we do not do this too often because, to be frank, they do not sell very well because the color is not that interesting to the aquarist. We only collect them about 3 – 4 times a year and that is all the market will bear.
Also please look at my web site and you will see Bruce’s video of a pair of C. deborae mating but what I really want you to see is the other “different” angel I have there. We have found two of these fish several years ago and the scientist is waiting for more specimens but I have not been able to find any more. Dr. Richard Pyle and Jack Randal say variant but Bruce is on the fence and Dr. Gerald Allen is also not sure. I have heard there were other collectors in Suva (now long gone) that also claim to have seen many of these but there is no proof other than I did see it on live aquaria web site and it did not come from me since I only sent mine to the scientific authority that I worked with before. It could be a variant of C. heraldi (as some suggest) but I doubt it since I have seen three specimens exactly the same and the size and swim pattern is very different than Centropyge and more like Genicanthus. Please let me know if you have seen anything like this in your waters. There are many variants of heraldi, bicolor, lemon peel mix with black tails or black splotches but this is very different and precisely marked on each specimen I have come across which is not typical of variants.
See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJIPY4t4IYo <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJIPY4t4IYo&feature=youtu.be> &feature=youtu.be
Deborae pair here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnj0JHsAIzI
Take care Peter, right now I am in LA getting ready for MACNA.
All the best,
<Thanks Walt. See you soon. BobF>

Later/est higher tax. of Teleosts based on MB     12/22/13

Red Tooth Trigger, evo. affinity w/ delphinids...   9/30/12
Hello, hope all is well. Perhaps you can clear something up. I read an article awhile back stating that the Niger (red tooth) trigger was a distant relative of the dolphin. I thought I saved the article but can not find it and it came up in a forum I am a member and everyone is thinking I am crazy as dolphin are mammals and the trigger is a fish. Have you heard of which I speak?
<Leon, you are quite right. Triggerfish are fish; Dolphins are mammals.
They are both chordates of course, and more specifically, both are vertebrates. So they have much in common. But their lineages diverged some 400 million years ago, and Triggerfish are far more closely related to bony fish such as Salmon, Goldfish and Perch than they are to Dolphins.
Conversely, Dolphins are much more closely related to birds, reptiles and amphibians than they are to bony fish like Triggers. Cheers, Neale.>

Primitive fish? ID... Axolotl likely    11/27/2007 Hi there, I was a sushi restaurant tonight and they have a tank (~50 gallons) with an eel-looking fish in it, but it has two feet (with little bitty toes) up front in place of fins, no fins in the back (one long caudal fin/back fin?) and it has external lungs (I think?) they look little flowers instead of ears. It has a flattened head with two nostrils on the underside also. No one at the restaurant knew what it was. One girl said it is a water salamander. I have done searches since I got home, and no luck yet. She said it also buries itself/wedges itself bc it seems to float otherwise? I saw it just sitting on the bottom. It was in a tank with some other fish (Arowanas-I think, and some angelfish -looking things). Just wondering if you could help me out. I know it is not a mudskipper, and the pictures you guys have of Ropefish and some bichirs and lungfish look a little bit like it, but no external lungs?? <Greetings. The feathery structures you are calling "lungs" would be external gills. Certain amphibians have gills throughout their life, the most famous of which is the Axolotl. Oddly enough, *baby* Bichirs do in fact have external gills, but they lose them once they are more a couple of cm long. It's almost certain this animal was an Axolotl. The varieties kept by hobbyists are usually either grey or pink. Axolotls have broad mouths and short stubby arms and legs. Typical size for an adult is around 20-30 cm. Axolotls are essentially salamander tadpoles that never metamorphose into adult terrestrial salamanders, and just stay being tadpoles, getting bigger and bigger but otherwise not losing their juvenile characteristics. This process -- neoteny -- is surprisingly common in the animal kingdom, and there's good reason to believe that humans are in fact neotenic apes, since in many ways we have the physical attributes of juvenile apes (lack of body hair, big head, flat face, constant learning ability etc.). I hope this helps. Cheers, Neale.> <<Great, Neale... RMF>>

Binomial nomenclature pronunciations   1/4/07 I have been searching the web in vain for a website or link to software that gives zoological pronunciations.  Are you aware of any?  I would prefer an actual audio clip of the correct pronunciation, but a syllable-by-syllable guide would be acceptable. Thanks, and keep up the good work!!!! Robert Nelson <Don't know exactly... but do know where I'd look next. Please search the Congress on Zoological Nomenclature. Bob Fenner who really enjoys etymology...>

REAL Fish Names: Taxonomic Classification/Latin Names…resources  11/28/05 Hello <Hello Jay C.> Where can I find a definitive list of taxonomic classification on the WWW. I would prefer one that is searchable i.e. I could type in the name of the organism and it would return the phylum, subphylum etc all the way down to species. <If you are speaking of all animals in general, honestly I am not sure. However I assume that you mean aquatic life, if so please see here: http://www.fishbase.org/search.php .> <<Whenever I want to find the taxonomy, I use the keyword "taxonomy", and if I have the species, or at least genus, add that as a search keyword.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy via Google.  There are also sites that are specific to particular sciences, many of these do require a fee for access, much like university libraries, etc.   Marina>> I have spent over 2 hours searching this morning and cannot find anything so comprehensive. <I think the above may be what you are looking for.> Thank you in advance for your time. <No trouble at all.> Jay Cochrane <Adam Jackson.>

Classification of dogfish and tuna 8/29/05 Hi there, could you tell me whether dogfish and tuna are in the same taxonomic class   please? <Mmm, the Same Class, as in taxonomic category? Nope... the Dogfish is a shark, belongs to the Class Chondrichthyes, the cartilaginous fishes (sharks, rays, skates, chimaeras), whereas the Tunas are bony fishes, Class Osteichthyes. Bob Fenner>

Taxonomic questions Hi <Hello there> Firstly I would like to personally Thank you for this great service. <Welcome> Questions 1- Are the tubeworms that live around hydrothermal vents are more closely related to mollusks than they are to nematodes? <Mmm, actually still in their own phylum I believe... and about mid-way in phylogenetic relationship twixt these phyla> 2-Lugworms and ragworms belong to the phylum Annelida....is this correct ? <Yes... in fact both are Polychaetes...> 3- Are the rorquals and  dolphins belong to different taxonomic phyla? <Mmm, no... both cetaceans, toothed whales... different families> 4-  Fish lice belong to the same taxonomic phylum as barnacles...is this correct? <Same phylum, different Orders> 5 - Starfish belong to the same taxonomic group as sea cucumber...is this correct? <Same phylum, different Classes> 6- Are the Sea-spider crustaceans...?. <No, but are arthropods> I know this is more than 1  question but I will be very happy ,if you can help me to clear my path by answering these question. Kind Regards Dogan <Learn to use your computer search tools. Bob Fenner>

Anthony's Etymology Hey, Bob... Am wondering if you can guide me towards any books/sites on "fishy" etymology. Am wondering about history of the nomenclature for our critters... some A-list lavatory reading material.  <Good question... I have some old, and I mean OLD works on word-origins... but would/will direct you to Jeff Howe's articles in FAMA re "New Descriptions"... he almost always lists some such works.... or ones that will lead you to same. Other than that I kindly encourage you to adopt/adapt one of my idiosyncratic behaviors and shop for books when/where you travel about... treasures to be found. Bob F>

Re: pollyphyllic, er... two samed...er... Turbinaria question Jack: I believe that it is possible for the same name to be used for a genus of plants and a genus of animals. The two groups are covered by different codes. Incidentally, note that our e-mail addresses have been simplified. Mine is now XXX.edu. The old one seems to be still working, but I'm not sure whether it will continue to in the future. ................ Dave David G. Smith MRC-159 Smithsonian Institution P.O. Box 37012 Washington, DC 20013-7012 <Ahh, thank you both. Will be issuing checks should I find myself on "Jeopardy" with the fortuitous "Biological Nomenclature" category! Bob Fenner>

Say what? Big Hello to all the WWM crew, <Robert> As everyone has said:  This site, it's staff, and it's seemingly endless amount of info has provided this new aquarist with a informed, stress-free start to my first reef, (in fact, first marine)... in short, you guys kick-ass!  Now as a paying customer, (lol... I bought Bob's CMA, Anthony's Coral Prop., and NMA reef inverts... constantly re-reading them!)  I thought I chime in with a question I can't find asked: <Okay> Where could I find a pronunciation key for scientific names?  I would think that such a thing would/should exist on the www, but I can't seem to find it.  It may seem a little silly, but being from an area where salt water aquarists are few and far between, I rarely get to hear informed reefer's talking shop.  All my info comes in text... so I can spell most of the names and take a shot at pronouncing them, but it's hit or miss. <Not silly, and a good deal of fun to learn, use: http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&q=scientific+name+pronunciation+keys> I wish for this only for my own interest in learning this hobby inside and out, and have a better understanding of the creatures involved ... not to impress anyone!   Thanks guys/gals, Robert Smith <Hee hee! More likely you'll find the common (mis)pronunciations to be amusing. Bob Fenner>

Fish or fishes? I've noticed on your web pages you use the word fishes a lot.  Didn't know if anyone has let you know, but the word is fish.  Using it in the plural form is still fish.  Just thought I'd let  you know.   William <Actually... This is not the case. When referring to more than one species the term is fishes... if all the same species or a singular individual the word is fish. A common, too common error. Bob Fenner>

Appreciation Hello Fenner Robert, Love your zestful, frolicsome approach to the delightful subject of taxonomy. Viva Zapata indeed! [lol] <Thank you. Small worlds... was just working on the Lobster pages today, ayer...> I myself am a budding amateur taxonomist. Having a ball tracking down orders and families and sorting contradictory data - in my spare time. <Yes, a delight... not for all it seems...> Frankly, I like your take on taxonomy, your whimsical way with a word or a phrase. Drop me an email sometime and tell me more about yourself. Are you a prof? a teaching assistant? Do you love your subject and the fascinating creatures and critters that populate the world as much as it seems? <Ah yes... and just a friendly, neighborhood pet-fish ichthyologist... Some academic background... but matriculated enough to not pontificate... and an abiding regard for order, at least my own ordering and ranking of factual material, ideas, attitudes... as mechanisms to keep myself "in line with what's positive to my nature"> If you're too busy to answer fan mail, I understand. But stay as you are. <No other possibility> Molly P.S. I downloaded a lovely photo of some sow bugs yesterday at the library and was tickled at the reactions to it of my fellow Internet devotees there by the printer. (They were NOT enchanted!) <They will be with your enthusiasm (from the Gk: "en thuus", "the god in you", hence the term "theology". Be chatting. Bob Fenner>

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