Science Milestones: The Binomial Naming System

Systema Naturae was one of the major works of the Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician Carolus Linnaeus. Although the system, now known as the binomial naming system, was partially developed by Gaspard and Johann Bauhin, 200 years earlier, Linnaeus was first to use it consistently throughout his work.

binomial naming systemHe first published Systema Naturae in 1735. However, it is the 10th edition that is the most important and is considered to be the starting point of zoological nomenclature; the full title of which was, Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis or translated: “System of nature through the three kingdoms of nature, according to classes, orders, genera and species, with characters, differences, synonyms, places”.



Carolus Linnaeus (23 May 1707 – 10 January 1778) was a Swedish naturalist and physician. His botanical work Systema Naturae in 1758 contained his system for classifying plants into groups depending on the number of stamens in their flowers, providing a much-needed framework for identification. He also devised the concise and precise system for naming plants and animals, using one Latin (or Latinized) word to represent the genus and a second to distinguish the species; a system that has become known as the binomial naming system.

Linnaeus was born in the countryside of southern Sweden. He received most of his higher education at Uppsala University, and began giving lectures in botany in 1730. He livedabroad from several years in the 1730s, where he studied and also published a first edition of his Systema Naturae in the Netherlands. He then returned to Sweden, where he became professor of medicine and botany at Uppsala.

In the 1740s, he was sent on several journeys through Sweden to find and classify plants and animals. In the 1750s and ’60s, he continued to collect and classify animals, plants, and minerals, and published several volumes. At the time of his death, he was one of the most acclaimed scientists in Europe.

Bring it Home

Suppose you found a species of animal that you had never seen before. How would you identify it? Scientists use a tool called a taxonomic key to determine an organism’s identity. A key uses a set of statements that describe an organism’s appearance to help identify the organism.

Most taxonomic keys are dichotomous, which means they offer only two choices for a specific feature. You select the most correct possibility and are directed to another statement. Eventually, you create a route through a series of statements that ends at the correct name of the unknown organism.

The best way to understand how a dichotomous key works is to try using one. The simplified key below can be used to distinguish between the most common insect orders. Use this tool to identify the insects shown below. As you can see, the identification is based upon the physical features of the insects. Choose one of the insects pictured below and work through the description sets provided to reach a positive identification.simple insect key

You may also wish to explained upon this activity with an introductory lesson on the scientific classification system.  To learn more about insects and to advance your skills with the binomial naming system, take a look at my Introductory Entomology Unit Study. It includes numerous hands-on activities, as well as a a more comprehensive dichotomous key to insects.

Science Milestones

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥