Names for plants and animals come from classification systems. The right style for the classification conveys meaning to people reading the content.
Italicise genus and species names
The genus and species form the definitive name of a plant or animal. By convention:
- the genus is in italics and takes an initial capital
- the species is in italics and is lower case.
Backhousia citriodora is the scientific name of the lemon myrtle.
Ornithorhynchus anatinus is the scientific name of the platypus.
Subspecies and the names of varieties are also italicised. In these names, abbreviations for the words ‘subspecies’ and ‘variety’ take a full stop. This is an exception to the general rule for abbreviations.
Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. hedraia is a subspecies of snow gum found only in the Mount Bogong and Falls Creek areas of Victoria.
Acacia alata var. platyptera is a variety of winged wattle that is found only in Western Australia.
Screen readers don’t pronounce italics. Use the semantic tag <em> to provide emphasis for italicised names in HTML.
Write common names in lower case and roman type
Most plants and animals have a common name as well as their genus and species name.
For common names:
- Use lower case unless they are also a proper noun, a registered trade mark or in some specialised content such as genetics.
- Do not use italics.
- The Tasmanian devil is named after its home range of Tasmania.
- The grasslands were home to more than a million red kangaroos.
- Tuross River was home to a family of platypus.
Use initial capitals when the name includes a proper noun.
- Norfolk Island pine
- Mount Arthur burrowing crayfish
Plant and animal names that are also common English words
Names that have become everyday words are shown in roman type and don’t need a capital letter.
This includes English derivatives. These are plant and animal names that came from the scientific classification system and are now in everyday use.
- feline [From the subfamily Felinae]
- carnivore [From the order Carnivora]
You usually don’t need to use an initial capital for breeds, even if they are derived from a regional name.
- siamese cat
- friesian cattle
Registered trade marks
Use an initial capital for names of registered cultivars or breeds. In a sentence, the registered name is sometimes in quotation marks.
Acacia ‘Cascade’ is a registered cultivar derived from Australian native flora.
It’s best to check a dictionary or another reputable source to confirm whether the name has an initial capital. Refer to related guidance on commercial terms.
In generalist Australian Government content, use lower case for the names of birds unless the name contains a proper noun.
The silver gull (Larus novaehollandiae) is a common gull of the Australian coast.
South-west Western Australia is the only place where Carnaby’s black cockatoo is found.
This style may vary in some specialist content and content following international conventions. If writing for these, check and use the style that readers will understand. For example, in some contexts the common names of bird species start with a capital letter but are lower case when used as a generic term.
The Silver Gull (Larus novaehollandiae) is frequently observed in Australian coastal regions.
A species of cockatoo, Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo, is native to south-west Western Australia.
In both generalist and specialist content, use lower case for bird names in a list of common names of plants and animals.
The area was inhabited by green tree frogs, carpet pythons, bush rats and silver gulls.
When using genetic terms for plants and animals:
- Use italics for the names of genes.
- Use roman type for the names of proteins (enzymes).
Capitalisation varies for the names of genes, but proteins usually take an initial capital only.
In plants, the gene Sbe1 encodes starch-branching enzyme one, Sbe1.
Include the genus and species at first mention of the common name
The common name of a plant or animal can be a local name for more than one species in different places. Only the scientific name is the definitive name.
For this reason, include the species name in parentheses when you first mention the common name so it is clear which plant or animal you are writing about.
Royal grevillea (Grevillea victoriae) is one of more than 350 species in the genus Grevillea.
A common name is often a local name for a species:
- A common name can be used for several species.
- A species can have different common names in different places.
Black wattle is used as a common name for several Acacia species, such as Acacia mearnsii, A. aulacocarpa, A. auriculiformis, A. concurrens and A. crassicarpa.
Acacia dealbata is known by several common names, such as ‘silver wattle’, ‘blue wattle’ and ‘mimosa’.
When the genus is repeated, it can be abbreviated
If you have already written the full name of the genus, use a shortened form for later mentions. This is often just the first letter of the genus name.
Ornithorhynchus anatinus belongs to the Ornithorhynchidae family. O. anatinus is a well-loved Australian animal.
When there are several genera that start with the same letter, include the second letter in the abbreviation.
Anopterus macleayanus and Aleuries moluccana are small Australian trees. Although An. macleayanua is found in cool places, Al. moluccana can tolerate tropical conditions.
Refer to classification systems to help you name plants and animals
Plants and animals are classified in a hierarchy from general to specific. The style you use is set by where the name is in the hierarchy:
- Names down to genus level start with capital letters.
- Species names are in lower case.
- Genus and species names are in italics.
The examples in the table show the classification for:
- a plant, lemon-scented myrtle
- an animal, the platypus.
|Classification terms||Lemon-scented myrtle (botany)|
|Classification terms||Platypus (zoology)|
Scientific names often have Latin endings
The scientific names of plants and animals often derive from Latin. Check the spelling when you use them.
It can help to recognise spelling patterns:
- The family names of plants usually end in ‘ceae’.
- The family names of animals usually end in ‘idae’.
Ornithorhynchus anatinus belongs to the Ornithorhynchidae family.
All classification names above genus level are in roman type and take initial capitals.
- Backhousia citriodora is in the family Myrtaceae.
- Ornithorhynchus anatinus is in the order Monotremata.
Scientific names can include the name of a person
Technical content often includes the name of the person who first described the species.
The person's name follows the first mention of the species in the content. The publishing date of the description can also follow the name.
The name and date, if they are included, appear in roman type.
Grevillea victoriae F.Muell. was first described by botanist Ferdinand von Mueller.
There is a standard form for writing the person’s name. In this example, ‘F.Muell.’ is a standard abbreviation in biology – it uses full stops and has no spaces. Check a biology dictionary if you are not certain.
Plants and animals are sometimes allocated to a different genus from the one they were given when they were first described. In this case, the name and date appear in parentheses after the genus and species name.
Robshelfordia circumducta (Walker, 1869)
[This shows that Walker first described the cockroach in 1869 as a species, but another author has since allocated it to the genus Robshelfordia.]
Subcategories of species are usually abbreviated
For plants, there are 5 taxonomic categories below species level:
- subspecies (abbreviated as 'subsp.' for a single subspecies and 'subspp.' for more than one subspecies)
- variety (abbreviated as 'var.')
- subvariety (abbreviated as 'subvar.')
- form (abbreviated as 'f.')
- subform (abbreviated as 'subf.')
The abbreviations are in roman type and lower case. The subspecies and varietal names themselves are in italics.
- Grevillea victoriae subsp. nivalis is one of the subspecies of this Grevillea genus.
- Grevillea banksii var. fosteri has beautiful blood-red flowers.
If the species or variety is unknown or unspecified, there is no word after the abbreviation.
- Grevillea victoriae subsp.
- Grevillea banksii var.
For animals, there is only one taxonomic level below that of species: subspecies. By convention, the abbreviation ‘subsp.’ is not used.
Macropus agilis jardinii is a subspecies of the agile wallaby (M. agilis).
Use specialised resources for more information
Check the names of plants and animals. Make sure the information is up to date.
Use reliable sources such as:
The digital edition builds on content from the sixth edition. It provides more examples, and links to specialised resources. It consolidates information from other parts of the sixth edition.
The Content Guide did not have specific content about the style for the names of plants and animals.
About this page
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Australian Cultivar Registration Authority (2017) List of registered cultivars derived from Australian native flora, ACRA website, accessed 11 June 2020.
Australian National Herbarium (n.d.) Australian plant name index, Australian National Botanical Gardens website, accessed 17 June 2020.
Biotext Pty Ltd (2016) The Australian manual of scientific style online, AMOSS website, accessed 17 June 2020.
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Day N and Simpson K (2019) Field guide to the birds of Australia, Penguin Books Australia, Melbourne.
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Turland NJ, Wiersema JH, Barrie FR, Greuter W, Hawksworth DL, Herendeen PS, Knapp S, Kusber W-H, Li D-Z, Marhold K, May TW, McNeill J, Monro AM, Prado J, Price MJ and Smith GF (2018) International code of nomenclature for algae, fungi and plants (Shenzhen code), Koeltz Botanical Books, doi:10.12705/Code.2018.
This page was updated Monday 6 September 2021.