Why are brackets sometimes used in scientific names?

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When you read fish books you'll often see brackets around the names of the author and a date. What are these for and what can they tell you about a fish? Matt Clarke explains.

The correct way to note a scientific name is to write the genus and species names in italics and then the name of the author (or authors) who described it, as well as the date of the description. For example, Hyphessobrycon frankei, Zarske and Gery, 1997.

This tells us that the fish is a species called frankei in the Hyphessobrycon genus and was described in 1997 by Zarske and Gery. Simple really.

The brackets, or parentheses, are important. They’re not added just to make the name look neater in books and magazines, as many people believe.

Parentheses around the author’s name and date of description show that the species was originally described under a different name, so synonyms exist. If there are no parentheses, the fish has only had one scientific name and the author correctly placed it in the right genus when first described.

Take the Celestial pearl danio. It’s current name is Danio margaritatus (Roberts, 2007). This tells us it has another scientific name and was originally placed in the wrong genus by the original author.

Most never use author’s names, but for scientists and specialists these can add information that the name alone cannot.

This item was first published in the October 2009 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine. It may not be reproduced without written permission.