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Species Taxonomy Nomenclature

Release Date: October 22, 2018
Category: Scientific Writing
Author: Amanda W., Ph.D.

When writing about an organism in a scientific document, it is important to accurately and reliably identify it. Unfortunately, the rules for biological nomenclature can be very confusing! This article provides a simple, pragmatic overview of the rules for including the names of organisms in your writing. If you are interested in the history or philosophy of the modern system of taxonomy and nomenclature, please see the additional resources at the end of the article.

Life - Domain - Kingdom - Phylum - Class - Order - Family - Genus - Species

Binomial nomenclature

Binomial nomenclature is the system of describing a species using two identifiers: the name of the genus and the name of the species, in the form Genus species.

The genus should be capitalized, and the species should not, even if the species name was derived from the name of a person or place. Both parts should be italicized, unless the surrounding text is all italicized, in which case it should remain un-italicized to set it apart. In handwritten text, it should be underlined.

Sabal mexicana is one species of palm tree that is found in Texas.

The genus name should be written in full upon its first use in a scientific document. For subsequent uses, the genus can be abbreviated to its first letter followed by a period. When writing a manuscript, please keep in mind that most journals will request the genus name be written in full at its first use in each major section of the manuscript: the abstract, the main text, and each figure or table legend.

Escherichia coli bacteria can be found in the intestines. Some strains of E. coli are pathogenic, whereas others… Introduction
Escherichia coli is a species of bacteria found in…

You can abbreviate the genus name after its first use even when describing a different species within that genus, as long as there is no risk of confusing it for another genus. Some style guides and journal instructions specifically state whether this is acceptable. When you are unsure, or think it may cause confusion for the reader, you should choose the safer option of writing the genus in full at its first use for each species.

Homo habilis is not very similar in appearance to H. sapiens.

When the species within a given genus cannot or does not need to be identified in a sentence, it can be replaced with “sp.” If you are referring to multiple species of the same genus, “spp.” can be used. These abbreviations should not be italicized.

Among the other bacteria, we isolated one colony of a Bacillus sp. from the sample.
There are several Bacillus spp. that demonstrate these traits



In zoology and botany, the scientist who first published the name of a species is given credit the first time you use the name in your document. In zoology, this is often done by including the surname of the scientist and the year of publication, not in italic text. If the species name has changed since the original publication, the name will be in parentheses. In botany, the year of publication is not included, and many of the scientists who published species names are referred to by abbreviated names (see references for a list). If the species name has changed since its original publication, the original author is placed in parentheses, and the name or abbreviation of the scientist who published the new name is added after the parentheses

The moth Gamelia septentrionalis Bouvier, 1936 is found in Central America.
Azolla filiculoides Lam. can grow to cover a lake surface in a matter of months.
Japanese Ginseng, Panax japonicus (T.Nees) C.A.Mey, is a potential source of natural remedies.

Trinomial Nomenclature


For ranks below species, an additional identifier must be added. In zoology, this is always known as a subspecies, and the name can simply be written as three words: Genus species subspecies. In botany, there are multiple ranks below species, each with a different abbreviation that must be added to the name: subspecies (subsp.), variety (var.), subvariety (subvar.), form (f.), and subform (subf.). The rank abbreviation is not italicized, and is inserted between the species and the italicized subclassification.

Syringa vulgaris var. alba is the common white lilac.
Anatomically modern humans are also known as Homo sapiens sapiens.

Still have concerns?

What if you’ve read this quick guide and looked at the references below but you still aren’t sure whether you’ve accurately named the organisms in your scientific document? It can help to search for published papers about the same organism, especially those in your target journal. If you are sending your document to a professional editing company like BioScience Writers, let them know you’d like an editor with knowledge of the field to check whether your nomenclature is correct.


Keywords: Nomenclature, Taxonomy, Species, Genus, Subspecies, Zoology, Botany

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