Well now, here’s where I’m just guessing….

So, reading Science Daily*1, as I do from time to time, I picked up on an article about a very early jawed vertebrate. The newly identified critter is a late Silurian (Upper Silurian) fish that appears to date to Lau event and/or the period of recovery immediately after the Lau event (423 Mya).

None of that particularly escapes me. However, the article, which you can see here, included a graphic of the holotype fossil, and the graphic’s caption puzzled me. Perhaps you, dear reader, can help me out of my befuddlement.

Here’s the graphic:

Early Jawed Fish

The caption was this:

This is a holotype and interpretative reconstruction of Sparalepis tingi gen. et sp. nov.
Credit: Brian Choo: CCAL

All well and good until one notices that the genus & species names are not in italics, and then there’s the following bit, which probably would be distinct if italics were used properly. Here’s my question, if “Sparalepis tingi gen. et sp. nov.” were to have been displayed like so, I’d guess that “gen. et sp. nov.” is simply the latin for “new genus and species”. But I don’t remember ever seeing that in articles before*2. But if it was intended that the text be presented, “Sparalepis tingi gen. et sp. nov.” then I would be lost.

I think it’s too much of a coincidence that “gen. et sp.” could so easily be “genus et species” – and thus my conclusion about likely intent – but it’s always possible that, as ignorant as I am in biology, my availability heuristic is failing me.

Anyone want to give me something more definitive on what’s going on here and why anyone would abbreviate “nova” (this is plural neuter, right?) “nov.” when that’s still 4 characters. Or genus as “gen.” Even saving a single character just doesn’t seem worth it to me, but who knows what those wacky biologists get up to behind closed doors. Perhaps biologists are often concerned with the conservation of a single (or singular) character…


*1: Science Daily is a dump site for press releases, mostly, but it means that the authors tend to be university employees who work directly with the researchers to get the release right. In many cases this can lead to more accurate characterizations of the research than most popular press accounts (though, admittedly, the writing isn’t necessarily as skilled or as riveting). But I am not a biologist, I read these articles for fun and tend to struggle mightily when I go to the original journal articles. So popular press it is, and Science Daily has the benefit of being refreshed frequently.

*2: Obviously I could simply be forgetting. But I think that if I did see it, it probably correctly italicized the genus & species names and/or didn’t use abbreviations, minimizing my confusion and thus leaving nothing significant to remember: “Oh, some scientists dropped in some latin? That’s about as exciting as latin being dropped by lawyers, et al.”


  1. Tethys says

    I’m guessing that they are abbreviating novus which is latin for new. New genus and species is my reading, though the missing italics makes it confusing. This fossil is much older than the holotype for this genus , so perhaps this is a provisional name? I imagine that naming rights to a new genus and species is the dream for paleontologists.

  2. says

    You are correct that “gen. et sp. nov.” is a shortened form of the Latin for “new genus and species”, and it is not normally italicized—though this depends on the journal in which the figure was originally published, as some require anything Latin, including common (in the scientific literature) terms like “et al.” and “in vitro”, to be italicized. You are also correct that the scientific name should have been in italics. Failure to italicize scientific names is one of my pet peeves, but then, I’m an incorrigible pedant.

  3. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    An incorrigible pedant? Just my type!

    Thanks much for the confirmation/information…and for reading.

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