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Find Original Marine Species Authorities: Home

This guide will help you locate original species authorities and, in many cases, view the original text online.


Finding the citation of an original species authority for any species can be a bit daunting. But there are some great tools to help you identify the current accepted scientific name, the original scientific name, and the work in which it was cited. Additionally, thanks to digital archives, you may actually be able to view the original publication.


Wikipedia is a useful tool for looking up species. Just remember, it is a crowd-sourced resource, so its accuracy may not be 100%. Use it to find the scientific name and potentially the author of the original species description.

Eschmeyer's Catalog of Fishes
An authoritative reference for taxonomic fish names, featuring a searchable on-line database. This resource is particularly useful for references to published works about a fish ranging from the original description to taxonomic reclassification.

World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS)
WoRMS is a comprehensive database of marine taxonomic information. In particular, it is useful for viewing changes in taxonomic classification and nomenclature over time. You can often find the original species name as well as the current accepted species name.

Integrated Taxonomic Information System
A basic search tool with authoritative taxonomic information records.

Biodiversity Heritage Library
A vast searchable digital archive of biology material. Includes some Linnaeus works.

Steps to Find Species Authority

  1. Establish the current scientific name of the species. Note the author and date of the species authority if available. Wikipedia is very useful for this.
  2. Identify the original scientific name for the species. Many binomial names have changed over time due to reclassification of species at various taxonomic levels. Eschmeyer's Catalog of Fishes and WoRMS (all marine species) are particularly helpful for tracking this.
  3. Identify where the species description was published. Both Eschmeyer's and WoRMS sometimes provide a citation for the original work. Sometimes they even provide either a link to the full text of the work in which the description of the species is found or include a PDF of the document. You'll still often have to hunt for the original scientific name within the work.

    If no direct link or document is available within Eschmeyer's Catalog of Fishes or WoRMS, you'll have to search for the full text elsewhere. If you have no citation yet, try to identify where the author published the species description. If all you have to go on is a name and a year, Wikipedia can be quite helpful for identifying major works published by the author. Some of the earliest descriptions were published in books written in Latin, French, German, etc. Since the 1800s, descriptions are increasingly like to have been published in journals or society proceedings. Try to identify the title and volume (if applicable) of the book or journal in which the author published the species description. The author of the description may not be listed as an author of the book.
  4. Obtain the full text of the publication. Anything over 100 years old is becoming more likely to be freely available online. Look for an online digital archive where you can access the work in which the original species authority was published. This can often be accomplished by searching the Web for the title of the book or journal. Often, hits will take you to an online repository like the Biodiversity Heritage Library or the Smithsonian. Sometimes you'll find your way to foreign language archives. For species authorities published in journals (especially in the past 100 years), search the library's journal holdings to see if we have access to the journal.
  5. Find the original species description. If you successfully obtain a PDF of the book or journal issue, you'll still need to locate the description or mention of the species in the document. Scans of old documents are not always accurately searchable. Also, searching for the binomial name doesn't always work because the genus and species are not always listed as a phrase (see Red drum example below). Try searching for the species name only. Other tips to find the description include looking for a table of contents or index.

An Example With the Red Drum.

Red Drum
"Channel Bass (Sciaenops ocellatus Linnnaeus)" is in the public domain

  1. A quick Web search for Red drum leads us to the Wikipedia page for Red Drum. From this we can determine the scientific name is Sciaenops ocellatus. We also see the author/date of the species authority is Linnaeus, 1766.
  2. We look up Sciaenops ocellatus in WoRMS and confirm that Sciaenops ocellatus is the accepted scientific name. The original scientific name, however, is listed as Perca ocellata (Linnaeus, 1766). It is the original scientific name that we need to look for in trying to find the original source.
  3. In WoRMS, the Original Description field of the record shows us where Linnaeus published this description. In fact, in this case we also have a link to the entire set of volumes of Linnaeus' Systema naturae per regna tria naturae on the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Systema naturae per regna tria naturae

4. Finding the description in the scanned book can be a challenge. The search tools don't always work as you might expect. Sometimes searching for the binomial name doesn't work because the genus and species are not listed as a phrase (see below). Try searching for the species name only. Other tips to find the description include looking for a table of contents or index. After a bit of a hunt for ocellata in the Perca (genus) category of Pices (Fishes), we find the entry on page 483.

ocellata text in

Librarian for Marine Resources

Geoff Timms's picture
Geoff Timms

I look forward to helping you with your research needs. Please contact me or make an appointment!

Geoff's Scholarship

Marine Resources Library, Fort Johnson