Physics and Astronomy

Taxonomy Spelling Bee a.k.a. The Orthographic Apidae

Students of biology rarely study Latin or Greek even though the meaning of many biological terms and names can be easily understood when one is familiar with their Latin or Greek suffixes or prefixes. Traditional spelling bees have seen a resurgence in popularity of late, despite the prevalence of spell-check software. The taxonomy spelling bee challenges students to improve their spelling and pronunciation of binomial nomenclature as well as their familiarity with the various taxa to which animals belong.

PurposeTo correctly spell the taxonomic binomial name for various animal species. To identify the group to which the organism belongs given its family, order, or class.
ParticipantsTeams of up to six. All students may participate.
MaterialsNo spelling aids allowed.
  1. The judge will clearly speak out-loud the genus and species name of an organism from the kingdom Animalia.
  2. Teams will have two minutes to record the correct spelling on the scoring sheets provided. Team members may confer with one another. The name will be repeated by the judge after 30s, 60s and 90s.
  3. After 2 minutes the judge will speak out-loud the name of the order or family to which the animal belongs. Students will have 30 s to record the common name for the group to which the organism belongs.
  4. Judges will use the guide to pronunciation that is described in the Pronunciation Guide that follows..
  1. There will be 10 different animals.
  2. Each animal will be scored out of 5 points (two points for genus name, two points for species name, and 1 point for identifying the class, order or family).
  3. To receive 2 points for the genus and species names, the spelling must be correct, with no errors. If the genus or species name has one error, you may still receive one point. If the genus or species name has more than one error, no points are received.
  4. In the event of a tie, the teams with the same number of points will be scored based on the number of errors in the names for which they received a score of zero (i.e. if one team had 2 errors and the other had 5 errors, the team with two errors would be declared the winner). In the unlikely event that two (or more) teams have a perfect score, there will be a “sudden-death” round.

Michelle Blais and the students of Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts North York.

Sample Game

Click on a name to hear it spoken.
  Genus Family; Order or Class
1 Apis mellifera Family: Apidae
2 Marmota monax Family: Sciuridae
3 Haliaeetus leucocephalus Order: Accipitriformes
4 Dipylidium caninum Class: Cestoda
5 Carcharodon carcharias Class: Chondrichthyes
6 Chlamydosaurus kingii Family: Agamidae
7 Grimpoteuthis abyssicola Order: Octopoda
8 Kiwa hirsuta Order: Decapoda
9 Pycnopodia helianthoides Class: Asteroidea
10 Ornithorhynchus anatinus Order: Monotremata
# Genus Score Species Score Common Name of Group Score Score /5
1 apis 1 melifera 1 bees 1 3
2 Marmota 2 monax 2 squirrels 1 5
3 Haliyetus 0 leucophalus 2 birds of prey 1 3
4 Dipelidium 1 caninum 2 amphibians 0 3
5 Carcarodon 1 carariis 0 sharks 1 2
6 Chlamydosaurus 2 kingii 2 lizards 0.5 4.5
7 Grympoteuthis 1 absicola 0 octopi 1 2
8 Keewa 0 hiersuta 1 centipedes 0 1
9 Pynopodia 1 helianthodes 1 starfish 1 3
10 Ornithorhincus 0 anatynus 1 platypus 0.5 1.5
Total 28/50

1. Apis: Genus name must be capitalized
6. Family Agamidae: are the dragon lizards, there are other families of lizards.
10. platypus: is too specific, Monotremata includes all egg laying mammals including the echidna


Binomial Nomenclature Spelling Bee Guide to Pronunciation

There is no absolute consensus among taxonomists with respect to the pronunciation of genus and species names. Most binomial names are derived from Latin, but they may also come from Greek and from the proper names of people and places. As few people study Latin and Greek these days, the proper pronunciation of scientific nomenclature can be challenging.

The table below is a guide to the most basic rules for the pronunciation of genus and species names using the traditional pronunciation conventions.

Also helpful is the text entitled The Biologist’s Handbook of Pronunciations by Edmund C. Jaeger (1960) The Ryerson Press, Toronto. It can be read on line or down loaded in a variety of formats.

Note that Latin has no “silent letters” so you must pronounce every letter.

Pronunication Guide
Vowels Consenants
a (short) as in apple b (as in English)
a (long) as in fate c as in cat (unless followed by ae, e, i, oe, or y and then as in Caesar)
e (short) as in get cc like ‘ks’ before ae, e, i, oe, and y – otherwise as ‘k’
e (long) as in me ch as English k – as in chorus
i (short) as in pit d (as in English)
i (long) as in ice f (as in English)
vowel-i-vowel – pronounce i as a y  
o (short) as in not g as in go (unless followed by ae, e, i, oe, or y and then as in algae)
o (long) as in note h as in hence
u (short) as in full j when followed by a vowel as y in yes
u (long) as in brute k (as in English)
y (short) as in cynical l (as in English)
y (long) as in my m (as in English)
Diphongs n (as in English)
ae (long) as ee in Caesar ph as in Philip
ae (short) as in haemorrhage q as in quite
au as aw as in bawl r as in English
ei as in height s as in sister
eu (beginning of word) as in Europe, otherwise as in rheumatism t as in tanned (unless followed by i, then as in nation)
oe (long) as ee in Amoeba th (as in English) as in thorax
oe (short) as in oestrogen v as in English
ui as "we" x as in six
  z as in zero
Silent Letters (mostly Greek) – usually at the beginning of a name
pt (as in Pterodactyl) p is silent chth (as in chthamalus) ch is silent
ps (as in pseudopod) p is silent ct (as in ctenoid) c is silent
pn (as in pneumonia) p is silent mn (as in mnium) m is silent
gn (as in gnat) g is silent tm (as in tmema) t is silent
phth (as in phenolphthalein) ph is silent  
Vowels & Accents

Rules for Vowel Length and Accent Placement

  1. Vowel Length
    1. Vowels are short if followed by two or more consonants. e.g. comma, Hosta
    2. Vowels are long if followed by one consonant and then another vowel. e.g. coma, Felis
  2. Accent Placement
    1. Words of two syllables are stressed on the first syllable. e.g. SEP-tum, FUN-gi, FE-mur, SI-nus
    2. Words with more than two syllables are usually stressed on the second to last syllable (e.g. max-IL-la, du-o-DE-num) UNLESS the last two syllables are not separated by a consonant. In that case, the stress is on the third last syllable. (e.g. max-IL-la, du-o-DE-num, Mag-NO-li-a, IL-e-um).
    3. Many exceptions exist, some according to suffix, e.g.
      words ending in –POD are stressed on the third last syllable, as in PSEU-do-pod.
      words ending in –IC are stressed on the second last syllable, as in spec-IF-ic.
      words ending in –ID are stressed on the third last syllable, as in HOM-in-id.

Bechraki, Kalliope K. and Andreas I. Iliopoulos. 2006. Pronunciation and spelling of scientific names.

Garland, Mark. 2008. Scientific names of plants. How to say them and what they mean.

Ommundsen, Peter. 2002. Pronunciation of biological Latin. Including taxonomic names of plants and animals.

University of Florida Entomology and Nematology Department. 2007. How to pronounce scientific names.

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