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Scientific names

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Limenitis arthemis arthemis, Québec, Canada.
Photo: Insectarium de Montréal (René Limoges)

When he created binomial (genus and species) Latin nomenclature, the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) established the system of scientific nomenclature that is still in use today. This system enables scientists all over the world to use common terms to designate not only insects, but all living beings.

Are you familiar with Limenitis arthemis arthemis (Drury, 1773) ?

It’s the White Admiral, the black butterfly with white striped wings that became Quebec’s official insect in 1998. The White Admiral is a good example for understanding the system of scientific nomenclature.

The first two Latin words that make up its scientific name indicate the butterfly’s genus (Limenitis), and species (arthemis).

The genus and species are the two most common characteristics by which an insect is identified.

However, sometimes the identification is even more specific and the organism is included in a sub-species. The Admiral that lives in Quebec does not belong to the same sub-species as the one that lives in the west of Manitoba (Limenitis arthemis rubrofasciata). It looks different, but because both butterflies belong to the same species, they could mate if they were in the same territory.

Finally, the Admiral’s scientific name ends with the name of the person who discovered it and the year it was identified. In the case of this butterfly, Drury was the naturalist who described it for the first time in 1773. The fact that the name is in parentheses indicated that the Limenitis has changed since the initial description of the butterfly.

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