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The Importance of Accurate Species Identification

Problem Marine Animal ID Communications from Robert Toonen


Robert Toonen has an extensive education in the field of Marine Sciences, with a Masters Degree in Marine Biology and a Ph.D. in Population Biology. You are probably familiar with his name from the many articles and publications he has written, particularly his Reefkeeper's Guide to Invertebrate Zoology series for Aquarium.net Cybermagazine over the years. Another popular resource from Rob is his Polychaete (aka "bristleworm") FAQ For Reefkeepers information.

In his communications to us regarding our Sally Lighfoot Crab photo misidentification mishap, Robert expressed that, "I have personally seen tanks with at least three different species in them at one local pet shop with a bright sign declaring, Sally Lightfoot Crabs -- Reef Safe! I think that when a common name like "Sally Lightfoot" or "Tigertail" catches on, suppliers occasionally ship anything similar for which there is no real common name under the more recognizable nickname like these. I think it is important to get people to at least mention Latin names when talking about animals with common names like these. I'm sure that everyone realizes that there is plenty of individual variation in animals, but I suspect a lot of the conflicting information about how a given animal performs in aquaria may largely reflect the fact that people in different places are sold different animals under the same common name."

Robert further commented that, "I can't remember how many times I've pointed out that "red sponge" is about as descriptive as "red fish" -- there are too many species to draw any inferences from a non-specific description like this. No one would consider asking questions like "how do I keep a red fish?", but such questions are common when dealing with inverts. It's even more important to be specific with inverts because the range of differences in life history, feeding mode, and habitat requirements among many groups such as sponges are much greater than the range for all species of fish."

We are in total agreement with Rob on all of these points, and here is another prime example that brings them home.

Next >> Triggers! Another Prime Example of Mis-Common Name Use Problems
Previous << Why Is It Important to Know the Latin Names of Marine Aquarium Animals?

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