Authority Lists: Where We Get Our Names

On Classification

Have you found a name you think we've misspelled? Wonder why one of our names is different from a name you see elsewhere? Trying to sign up to contribute a species account but getting a “this name was not found in our database” message?

Classification is a human undertaking. Most systematists agree that classification (how organisms are named and grouped) ought to reflect what we know about how organisms are related to each other. But what we know is constantly changing as new evidence becomes available. Like all human undertakings, there are controversies over what exactly we do know. There is no single correct classification, just classifications that are currently accepted by most systematists.

We have used a number of Authority Lists that help us standardize and consistently organize the information on our site. Taken together, these lists are far from complete. Errors and omissions occur. Some of them have been updated but aren't integrated into our site yet. And even if we have the names, we might not have any pictures, sounds, or text yet.


We have the names of all known mammals, from Mammal Species of the World (3rd Edition, 2005) and we continue to add newly recognized mammal species.


We have the names of almost all known birds. The scientific names (genus and species) follow the 3rd edition of The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World, which covers avian taxonomy from family level to subspecies. For higher levels of classification we follow the classification used by the University of Michigan Bird Division to organize its online database.

Other vertebrates and invertebrates

We use the Catalogue of Life as a classification source for all other animals, including other vertebrates (non-avian reptiles, amphibians, fish, etc.) and all invertebrates. Catalogue of Life includes taxonomic information from other global taxonomic authorities, including Fishbase, the TIGR reptile database, and ITIS (Integrated Taxonomic Information System)

We have the names of almost all known reptiles. EMBL Reptile Database is our authority, primarily because it is the only comprehensive online resource available. We used a 2001 CD-ROM from EMBL to build our database, with only minor modifications since, so there are known differences between our classification and the one that appears at the EMBL site.

General comments

Note that with few exceptions, we cover only living animals. Our higher classification generally follows Hickman, Roberts, and Larson 2003; other sources are explained in the text for each group.


Tanya Dewey (author); Cynthia Parr (author).