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Understanding Fish Names


What’s In a Name?
Common name, scientific name, what’s the difference? Most fish don’t care so why should you? Besides, scientific names are in Latin, which isn’t exactly short and sweet. Why not skip the Latin and use the common name?

You can, but if you want to learn more about your fish knowing the scientific name is invaluable when doing research. It isn't all that tough to learn the basic classifications of fish, and you might even find yourself getting hooked on it.

Classification of the animal kingdom starts with major groups called phyla. Fish are part of the phylum Chordata, which interestingly enough includes birds.

The phyla are broken down into classes, which in turn are broken down into orders, which are further broken down into families. Getting confused yet? Don’t worry; we are to the important part – families.

Families are broken down into genus, which are broken down into species, and if necessary further broken down into varieties. (See graphic to the right). Once you know about the family a fish belongs do, you already know something about it.

Family and Genus
Fish in the same family usually have general similarities. Fish in the same genus have even more similarities. Because fish are given a scientific name that is based on the genus and species, you can easily determine which fish are in the same genus.

For example, the scientific name for the fish commonly known as the Blue Gourami is Trichogaster trichopterus, which means it, belongs to the genus Trichogaster. Several other gouramis, such as the Moonlight, Pearl, and Snakeskin gourami, have a scientific name that also begins with Trichogaster, which means they all belong to the same genus.

There are roughly 10,000 species of freshwater fish, but less than 200 of them are commonly seen in aquarium stores. In fact little more than 20 species of fish make up nearly 90% of all aquarium fish sales. Those species of fish generally fall into the following families:

Anabantidae - Gourami, Betta
Cichlidae - Angelfish, Cichlids, Discus, Oscars
Characinidae - Tetras, Silver Dollars, Pencilfish, Hachetfish, Headstanders, Piranha
Cyprinidae - Barbs, Danios, Rasboras, Loaches, Goldfish
Cyprinodontidae - Killifish
Poeciliiodae - Livebearers (Guppy, Swords, Mollys, Platys)
Loricariidae - Catfish

So where do you begin learning scientific names? Start with the scientific names of the fish you already have or those you are interested in having. Where do you find those names? That’s where I can help. Here is a list of common fish names that also shows their scientific name. If you can’t find your fish on the list, send me an email and I’ll help you find the proper name.

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