You may be as fascinated to learn that there are about 80 species of Surgeonfish. One of the most popular is the electric-blue variety represented by the optimistic, caring and sociable ‘Dory’ in the hit-movie Finding Nemo!
This striking fish is known by a bewildering variety of names. A few include Blue Tang, Regal Tang, Hippo Tang, Wedge-Tail Blue Tang, Palette Surgeonfish and Flagtail Surgeonfish. To avoid the confusion, scientists know it as Paracanthurus hepatus.
We were curious about how scientific names for plants and animals are devised. It didn’t take long to pick up the trail of Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus, whose story (luckily for us) comes complete with an Australian twist!
Back in the 17th and early 18th centuries, plants were given long Latin phrases for names that reflected their particular botanical features. As more plants were identified, names became longer and longer, and more and more difficult to remember and use.
Linnaeus, who was born in 1707, was to change all that. In 1735 he introduced a method of naming plants that he later applied to animals. It brought simplicity and consistency to a befuddling array of previous systems, classifying each organism according to its physical attributes.
In the words of the Linnean Society of London, he gave “a one-word name such as Rhododendron or Equus to a genus and a two-word name such as Rhododendron ponticum or Equus caballus to an individual species within the genus.”
Known as ‘binomial nomenclature’, it answered the dire need for a standardised approach. No wonder it was applauded and universally accepted, and still provides the basis for naming organisms to this day.
During his work to catalogue all known living things, Linnaeus appointed students to undertake botanical and zoological expeditions throughout the world. Known as his ‘apostles’, they included a Daniel Solander, the first university educated scientist to set foot on Australian soil.
Linnaeus had advised Solander to go to England where, luck would have it, he met Joseph Banks. In 1768, the influential naturalists invited Solander to join the scientific staff of Cook’s Endeavour expedition to the Pacific.
As we know, after visiting Tahiti and sailing around New Zealand, Cook sighted the east coast of Australia, tracking it northwards to Botany Bay where the two scientists began collecting Australian plant specimens for description using the Linnaean method of classification.
Subsequently, the ship sailed into the tropical waters of the Great Barrier Reef, and area teeming with beautiful blue Paracanthurus hepatus.