Have you ever heard of tautonymous names? It's the word used when both parts of a scientific name have the same spelling.
Let’s be honest, not many of us have the mental determination to memorise animals’ scientific names. Known as binomial nomenclature, this formal naming system of living things is always composed of at least two parts. For example, we humans are Homo sapiens: where “homo” (Latin for “man”) is the genus name and "sapiens" (a Latin word meaning “wise”) is the species name.
The good news is, there are some animals whose genus and species names are the same, making them much easier to remember, and possibly scoring you a point or two at the next pub quiz. When a scientific name’s two parts are the same, it is known as tautonymy.
Tautonyms at the Aquarium
There are three animals at the Two Oceans Aquarium that have tautonymous names.
The loggerhead turtle’s scientific name is Carretta carretta. Thanks Yoshi! Not only are you easy to love, but it’s also easy to remember your binomial name.
Those gorgeous, gargantuan silver fish in the Ocean Basket Kelp Forest Exhibit? They’re white steenbras, with a scientific name easy enough to remember once you can pronounce it … These fish mature at about five years, and are commonly bisexual.
The maasbanker (aka horse mackerel) is an important food source for humans as well as dolphins, tuna, yellowtail and various seabirds. You can spot this tautonymous fish in the Ocean Basket Kelp Forest Exhibit, too.
Tautonomy in the sea
The scientific community really made it easy for us when they named the ocean sunfish! Mola mola are the largest bony fish in the ocean. They can grow up to 3m in length and approximately 2000kg in weight. Ocean sunfish are found in all the oceans of the world, excluding the icy polar seas.
Some of our favourite terrestrial animals have been known to dabble in some tautonomy themselves.
No prizes for guessing this one ...
The klipspringer (an Afrikaans word that means "rock jumper") is the only member of its genus, however there are many subspecies of Oreotragus oreotragus: Oreotragus oreotragus oreotragus, for example, is the Cape klipspringer, and occurs in the Cape of Good Hope.
When an animal has three parts to its scientifc name, or a trinomial name, like Oreotragus oreotragus oreotragus, the first is the name of the genus, the second that of the species, and the third that of the subspecies or variety.
Giraffa giraffa giraffa
There are actually four species of giraffe, including the northern giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis (with four subspecies), the reticulated giraffe (Giraffa reticulata), also known as Somali giraffe, and the Masai giraffe Giraffa tippelskirchi (with two subspecies). But the one we're probably most familiar with here in South Africa is the southern giraffe Giraffa giraffa. This species has two subspecies, the Angolan giraffe (Giraffa giraffa angolensis), also known as Namibian giraffe, and the South African giraffe (Giraffa giraffa giraffa).
Gorilla gorrilla gorilla
The western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) is one of two subspecies of the western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) that lives in montane, primary and secondary forests and lowland swamps in central Africa - this is the gorilla most often seen in zoos.
Bonus! Our favourite tautonymous name by far
Does this amoeba have the best scientific name of all time? We think so.