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Citizen science and global biodiversity
Citizen science and global biodiversity

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1.1 Why use Latin?

The use of Latin for the scientific names of species started in the eighteenth century. The advantages of using Latin, at that time, were:

  • it was familiar to scientists
  • it wasn’t a language that was evolving
  • it could be used across the boundaries that existed between people speaking different languages.

Common species names aren’t universal, after all, and the same common name may in fact be used to refer to several related species – for example, pill bugs are also called slaters or woodlice, amongst other local names, and the term refers to several species. For example, pill bugs are also called a slaters or woodlice, among other local names, and the term refers to several species (Figures 3 and 4).

Two pictures of two diferent species of Woodlice
Figures 3–4 The binomial indentifies the animal (in Figure 3) as Armadillidium vulgare and distinguishes it from others that are similar in appearance, such as Oniscus asellus (Figure 4, left) and Porcellio scaber (Figure 4, right).

The binomial also tells you something about interspecies relationships, which common names generally do not. Sharing a generic name means that two species are closely related. There also are higher order groupings that express broader relationships. For example, related genera are grouped into a family and then related families are grouped into orders, orders into classes and classes into phyla.