Information attached to the wrong species is actually misinformation

It is important to get scientific names right. No one will disagree with that. However, it took us a while to realize that it is of paramount importance and that information attached to the wrong species is actually misinformation and should rather not be published at all. Pietsch and Grobecker (1987) give a classical example of such a case: Bloch (1785) published a description of Lophius histrio (original combination of Histrio histrio (Linnaeus 1758)) accompanied by a figure that was actually a composite showing the head and body of Histrio histrio but the luring apparatus (illicium and esca) of Antennarius striatus. The confusion caused by this mistake lasted for nearly 200 years with 21 subsequent taxonomic publications using his erroneous description, often reproducing Bloch’s misleading figure.

With this in mind, we have taken several approaches to detect possible errors in our scientific names. First, we double-checked our names, authors, and distributional ranges against available literature, using more than one source wherever possible. To date, this time-consuming work has been accomplished for about 11,000 species records.

Second, we assigned original combinations to all our valid names and checked these against Eschmeyer’s (1998) Catalog of Fishes databases. In FishBase 98, this was achieved for all valid names and for most junior synonyms. Since then, it is routinely done for every new name that is added to FishBase.

Third, we continue to match our names against other available databases such as FAO’s SPECIESDAB (Coppola et al. 1994), NAN-SIS (Strømme 1992), TAIWAN (Shao et al. 1992), and HAWAII (Mundy, in prep.). For this purpose, we have developed a routine that examines lists of scientific names of fishes, identifies synonymous and misspelled names, and makes suggestions for the most probable correct name or spelling (see Check Names under Miscellaneous, this vol.).

All of this work is continuing and should ensure a high level of quality in our scientific names. However, if you come across any remaining errors, please let us know.


Bloch, M.E. 1785. Naturgeschichte der ausländischen Fische. Berlin, Vol. 1. 136 p.

Coppola, S.R., W. Fischer, L. Garibaldi, N. Scialabba and K.E. Carpenter. 1994. SPECIESDAB: Global species database for fishery purposes. User’s manual. FAO Computerized Information Series (Fisheries) No. 9, 13 p. FAO, Rome.

Eschmeyer, W.N., Editor. 1998. Catalog of fishes. Special Publication, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco. 3 vols. 2905 p.

Mundy, C.B. A checklist of the fishes of the Hawaiian Ridge, within the 200 nm exclusive zone, compiled from published literature. (in prep.).

Pietsch, T.W. and D.B. Grobecker. 1987. Frogfishes of the world. Systematics, zoogeography, and behavioral ecology. Stanford University Press, Stanford. 420 p.

Shao, K.-T., S.-C. Shen, T.-S. Chiu and C.-S. Tzeng. 1992. Distribution and database of fishes in Taiwan, p. 173-206. In C.Y. Peng (ed.) Collections of research studies on ‘Survey of Taiwan biological resources and information management’. Institute of Botany, Academia Sinica. Vol. 2. [In Chinese].

Strømme, T. 1992. NAN-SIS: Software for fishery survey data logging and analysis. User’s manual. FAO Computerized Information Series (Fisheries) No. 4. FAO, Rome. 103 p.

Rainer Froese