killifish names
Killifish names


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Understanding the scientific names of Killifish

The scientific names of fish and other animals may seem long and hard to pronounce, but there are actually several good reasons to use them. When you know the full scientific name of a Killifish species, obtaining more information about the species is really easy. A lot of facts are hidden inside the name itself and you can read more about this further down in this article. By using the scientific name, you can also search for information world wide without having to worry about out what the common name for the fish is in each region. Don’t forget that common names can vary a lot, even within the same language. It is not uncommon for popular Killifish species have at least two or three common names in English alone.

Avoiding confusion

Many Killifish species go under a multitude of different names, and other aquarists may therefore be unable to understand which fish you are talking about when you use the common name that is normal in your country or in your circle or aquarist friends. Trying to sell, purchase or obtain advice regarding a Killifish that only a fraction of the Killifish enthusiasts in the world can identity is naturally far from optimal. By using the scientific name, you can reach a much broader audience.

Another problem that makes common names even trickier to use is that fact that popular common names can be shared by several different fish species. The name “YYY Killifish” can therefore be used for species A, species B and species C simultaneously. This can naturally create a lot of confusion and lead to serious misunderstandings. By using the scientific name, it will always be clear which species you are referring to. 

Understanding relationships

A scientific name will provide you with a wealth of information if you understand how to interpret it. Scientific names always consist of two parts. The first part will tell you which genus the species belong to, while the second part serves to identify each member of that genus.

Let’s take a look at the Cinnanmon Killifish, a charming African species kept by many Killifish aficionados. The scientific name for this species is Aphyosemion cinnamomeum. The first part of then name, Aphyosemion, tells us that this fish belongs to the genus Aphyosemion. The second part of the name, cinnamomeum, makes it possible for us to distinguish this species from all the other members of the genus Aphyosemion, such as Aphyosemion australe (Lyretail killifish) and Aphyosemion filamentosum (Plumed lyretail).

Killifish species belonging to the same genus are all closely related. This is important knowledge for aquarists, because closely related species are usually quite similar in anatomy as well as regarding requirements and behavior. (There are naturally significant differences as well; otherwise they would not be classified as different species.) If you for instance obtain a killifish that nobody knows how to spawn in captivity, you can for look for information about spawning members of the same genus in captivity, and base your spawning experiments on these facts. You may not get it right every time, but you will increase your chances dramatically.

When you know the scientific name of a killifish, you can se how it is related to all other living things in the world. For Aphyosemion cinnamomeum, the structure is as follows:

Kingdom:      Animalia (animals)
Phylum:         Chordata (chordates)
Subphylum:   Vertebrata (vertebrates)
Superclass: Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates)
Class:            Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)
Order:           Cyprinodontiformes (killifishes)
Suborder:      Cyprinodontoidei
Family:         Cyprinodontidae(killifishes, pupfishes, and toothcarps)
Genus:       Aphyosemion(African lyretails)

Killifish names

In addition to its two-part name, many killifish species have been assigned one or a few words more, and a number. This is why killifish names can appear very long and complicated, especially compared to other scientific fish names. When looking at killifish auction sites, you can for instance stumble over names such as “Nothobranchius rachovii Beira 98”. We already know what Nothobranchius rachovii means (this fish belongs to the genus Nothobranchius and its species name is rachovii), but what about “Beira 98”? Beira 98 may seem cryptic, but it is actually a very straightforward collection code. If you purchase a Nothobranchius rachovii Beira 98, you purchase a Nothobranchius rachovii that was collected near the African village named Beira in the year 1998, or a descendant of such fish.

When the ancestry of a fish is Killifish is unknown, it is simply called “Aquarium Strain”. Nothobranchius rachovii (Aquarium Strain) is therefore a fish that could have been collected anywhere. If you breed your Nothobranchius rachovii Beira 98 with any fish that is not a Nothobranchius rachovii Beira 98, the result will also be a Nothobranchius rachovii (Aquarium Strain).

Wow, is it always this easy?

The answer to this question is unfortunately no. Sometimes a fish species will for instance be known under several different scientific names. Let’s say Explorer Anderson traveled to an African puddle in 1915, saw a killifish, described it and gave it the scientific name Nothobranchius andersonius. In 1920, another explorer travels to the same puddle, finds the same species, describes it, and decides to call it Nothobranchius victorii, in honor of his wife Victoria. As you can see, the same fish will now be known by two different names, until someone realizes that these two species is actually the same species and advocates a change.

Another problem with scientific names is that the taxonomy (the system in which all species are placed) is continuously being changed as we understand more and more about the world. DNA-testing may for instance show that a fish that we believed to be a Nothobranchius is actually more closely related to Killifish from some other African genus. The fish will then be moved to the proper genera and its scientific name will be changed, but the old name can still live on among aquarists for years and years unless someone launches a massive champagne to inform everyone about the taxonomic chance.

Due to reasons explained above, it is common to state not only common name and current scientific name in articles about Killifish, but include synonyms as well. It can for instance look like this.

Scientific name: Nothobranchius victorii
Synonyms: Adiniops rachovii
Common name: Bluefin notho

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© 2004-6

Why are Killifish Names so Long and Complicated?