An introduction to the naming conventions for Shells

Conus tribblei, Walls 1977

When faced with writing labels, the scientific naming conventions can appear complicated and challenging to the new collector. Here are some guidelines which are designed to summarise the code of the ICZN or International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature convention which covers all forms of animal and plant life.

Even today, the names use Latin structures as in Conus tribblei on the right named in 1977 by Walls after his cat Tribbles

The first name refers to the genus eg Conus and the genus always has a initial capital letter. It is followed by the species without any initial capital letter.The name of the author who first published the description of the species and named the species follows the shell name. This should be followed by a comma and the year of publication.The author is important for clarity since over the years different authors have used erroneously the same name for different species.

A subgenus grouping is used for some shells such as Oliva and the subgenus and should be placed in parenthesis after the genus name with an initial capital letter eg Oliva (Carmione) galeola Duclos, 1835

Some species have subspecies and forms or varieties.When there is a named subspecies, it is placed after the species without an initial capital letter and the following author and year refer to the subspecies publication.

Forms and varieties are used for colour and geographic forms of a recognised species or subspecies. The word forma should be placed in front of the form name or the abbreviations (f.) or (var.) may be used. No capitals are used

Names should be in italics and so should the words forma and abbreviations(var.) and (f.)

Some authors, believing they are describing a new species, will publish a name which is later found to be a previously described species.The first name is the valid one; the others are known as synonyms

Some species are reallocated to a different genus by later authors. Usage of these names should refer to the original author and date which should be enclosed in brackets Genus species (Gmelin, 1790)

Groupings of genus occur as Superfamily, Family and Subfamily which in turn are grouped into Order and Suborder followed by Class eg Gastropa and subclass and lastly Phylum eg MOLLUSCA. There is not space on the label for all of these! The group names do no use italics. The family groups are written with an initial capital letter and those groups higher in the hierarchy are written with the whole name in capitals.

When writing about a genus, you may avoid repetition of the use of the Genus with an abbreviation. For example "The shells in question are Conus abbreviatus Reeve, 1843; C. achatinus Gmelin, 1791: etc"

The choice of names follows many strange thought processes. You cannot name a new species after yourself. The postfix "ensis" implies the name was derived from a location usually of the described specimen or holotype You may enjoy the article by Kevin Brown of the British Shell Collectors' Club which looks at the background of some names. The priest, the politician, and the ballerina


This web page was last updated on 31 August 2003
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