Linnnaeus (whose citation at the end of a binomial is simply “L.”) invented a practical system for the classification of plants and animals; more importantly, he established a uniform method of referring to species by two Latin words–a reform that led eventually to binomial nomenclature. Although his classification system was superseded, his principles of nomenclature continue to provide the rules for application of names to thousands of species of animals and plants newly identified every year. Volume 1, Animalia, of the tenth edition of the Systema Naturae (1758), is one of the most important books in the history of science, for it marks the beginning of the modern zoological nomenclature and systematics. In it, Linnaeus first consistently applied binomial nomenclature to the whole animal kingdom.
Image from Siren lacertina, 1766. Linneana B65 v.6:146, Special Collections
Unfortunately the great Linnaeus had little love for herps, thought them “disgusting,” and would have done well to adopt the classifcation system of John Ray. We quote, in rough translation, from the Systema: “Amphibia are loathsome because of their cool and colorless skin, cartilaginous skeleton, despicable appearance, evil eye, awful stench, harsh sound, filthy habitat, and deadly venom; and so God has not seen fit to create many of them.” Many of Linnaeus’s descriptions were based on those in books by Aldrovandus, Seba, Catesby, Jonstonus, and others. His use of the word “Amphibia” denoted not only all reptiles and amphibians, but also the cartilaginous fishes.
This work is the doctoral dissertation of one of Linnaeus’s students; it was the tradition of the day for a professor to write the thesis, but the student “respondent” had to defend it and pay for its publication.
Rare Books Cataloger
Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit and catalog, Slithy Toves: Illustrated Classic Herpetological Books at the University of Kansas in Pictures and Conservations