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Naming Nudibranchs






A common name, as it suggests, is a name for an animal that has become common through usage rather than one that is derived from the scientific method of description and naming protocols. A common name usually reflects some obvious aspect of appearance or behaviour.


There are very few common names for nudibranchs because they aren’t creatures that are commonly seen or known by the general public. There are a couple of examples though, that come immediately to mind such as “Spanish Dancer” for Hexabranchus sanguineus and “Blue Dragon” for Pteraeolidia ianthina. Common names for creatures are popular with the general public because they are captivated by some particular feature and make their link in that way.


Bill Rudman on The Sea Slug Forum has the view that common names “….are a contradiction in terms, because names invented in this way are not ‘common’ in the sense of being in common use among the ‘common people’, but are only ‘common’ in the sense of being formed from the ‘common language’.


We are of the opinion that it is no harder to know the correct exclusive scientific name of a species than it is to know a “common’ name that has been tagged by somebody and might indeed have a different ‘common’ name somewhere else. Common names are unreliable and useless for identification purposes.





In contrast however the common names of fish have evolved over centuries and a vast number of people are involved catching, selling and eating them so they are in everyday common usage. The multitude and mix-up of these fish common names however has required legislation to sort it out for commercial and legal use. Just one example of this confusion is a fish that is known as a Yellowtail Kingfish. It is also known as Albacore, King Amberjack, Kingfish, Yellowtail and Silver King (Source: Grant’s Guide to Fishes). Its scientific name is Seriola lalandi and it matters not, where in the world you are or what language you speak there is no doubt as to the identification if this name is used.


This situation doesn’t apply to nudibranchs and we would hate to see a whole series of common names artificially created, that will not have derived from common usage, just for the sake of having common names.


The system of scientific naming was derived to overcome all the shortcomings of common name usage especially in order to rise above parochial prejudice. Wherever in the world you live this is the name that is truly ‘common’ for everybody.


If you are interested enough to known the name of a nudibranch then surely you will want to know the proper name and the little bit of effort it takes to use them will be well worth your while.


Nudibranch webmaster Gary Cobb

All photographs and content © 2003-2024 Gary Cobb and contributing photographers.