Classification of Species

Taxonomy or systematics is the science of classification of organisms. It is built upon the basic fields of morphology, physiology, ecology and genetics. The first step in the resolution of knowledge is the classification of phenomena in an orderly system. This means ultimately naming, describing, and classifying all insects and other organisms. It is estimated that there are probably three million insect species of which about one and one-half million have names. Taxonomy has been described as the most elementary yet the most inclusive part of zoology; most elementary because insects cannot be discussed or treated in a scientific way until some taxonomy has been achieved, and most inclusive because taxonomy gathers together, utilizes, summarizes and implements everything that is known about insects. Insect identification provides a filing system for entomologists, allowing the assemblage of vast amounts of detail.

The definition, description and naming of more than three million insects are the tasks of taxonomy. The organization of the tremendous numbers of names into a classification consists of defining groups or categories on a hierarchic scale. The taxonomic hierarchy consists of a series of categories of descending rank from the entire Animal Kingdom to the basic unit, the species. The system now commonly used is summarized below.

Basic Taxonomic Classification System for Plants and Animals


Pine Tree

Bark Beetle























This is the basic taxonomic hierarchy. However, in many groups of animals the need has arisen for even more precise definition of the taxonomic position of a species. This has been accomplished by splitting the original categories and inserting additional ones. Most of these are formed by adding the prefix super- or sub- to the original name; i.e., superfamily and subfamily.

The naming of living organisms is governed by the Rules of Nomenclature. These rules specify that the scientific names of species must be Latin or latinized words. Each organism is identified by a generic name and a specific name, which are usually italicized, and followed by the name of the author who first described the species; e.g., Ips confusus (LeConte) is the name of a bark beetle in the genus Ips with the specific name confusus which was first described by LeConte. The brackets around the author's name indicate that the original name has been changed.

The names of families can be identified by the ending idae, e.g. Scolytidae is a family that contains the bark beetles, including the genus Ips. No rules are laid down for names in categories higher than family.

Many insects also have common names but as these vary with locality and usage they often give rise to confusion. There is a Committee of Common Names, sponsored by the Entomological Society of America, which is attempting to confirm common names of insects but the dissemination of this information is restricted and the misuse of common names impossible to curb.

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