Scientific names are important for communicating specific species of tarantulas. As many people involved in the community know, there are many tarantulas with a common name of “red-knee,” “red-leg,” “earth-tiger,” etc. which can cause confusion as to the specific species to which one is referring. Another benefit of scientific names is that they cross languages–Acanthoscurria geniculata will be understood as a specific tarantula species by arachnologists and hobbyists alike in Brazil, Canada, Germany, South Korea, and the Philippines, as opposed to common names which are bound by language and even region. 

Around the 18th century, the naming system developed–binomial nomenclature (technically only used for plants, as binominal is used for zoology, but it is commonly accepted to use binomial with zoology nowadays). This two-part naming system includes the genus and species to distinguish each species within the genus. In the 19th century, a governing body developed in order to keep the scientific names in a consistent format with a series of codes and rules for describing each species: International Code of Zoological Nomenclature or ICZN. This body regulates:

  • How names are correctly established in the frame of binominal nomenclature
  • Which name must be used in case of name conflicts
  • How scientific literature must cite names

It does take a while to learn them, and there is a learning curve associated with learning scientific names, but many people do not realize that every genus and species name have meaning behind them. 

Most scientific name sources are either:

-Latin (e.g. Avicularia)

-Greek (e.g. Poecilotheria)

-Locale specific (such as area of species discovery, e.g. Aphonopelma madera (Madera Canyon, AZ)) 

-People (such as taxonomist, biologists, individuals who discovered species, naturalists, etc. e.g. Brachypelma smithi or Psednocnemis jeremyhuffi)

-Other languages (e.g. genus Nhandu or Tliltocatl


Here are some elements of scientific names using both Latin and Greek roots:

  • acantho: “thorn,” from ancient Greek ἄκανθος (ákanthos)
  • albo: “white,” from Latin albus
  • aphono: “silent,” from ancient Greek ἄφωνος (áphōnos)
  • auratum: “golden,” from Latin
  • Avicularia: “bird-catcher,” from Latin aviculārius
  • brachy: “short,” from ancient Greek βρᾰχῠ́ς (brăkhŭ́s)
  • centro: “spike,” from ancient Greek κέντρον (kéntron)
  • cephalus: “head,” from ancient Greek κεφαλή (kephalḗ)
  • cerato: “horn” or “horned,” from ancient Greek κέρας (kéras)
  • chalco: “copper” or “brass,” from ancient Greek χαλκός (khalkόs)
  • chilo/chilus: “lip,” from ancient Greek χεῖλος (kheĩlos)
  • chromato: “color,” from ancient Greek χρῶμα (khrō̃ma)
  • cyaneo: “deep blue,” from Latin
  • dolicho: “long,” from ancient Greek δολῐχός (dolĭkhόs)
  • ephebo: “youthful,” from ancient Greek ἔφηβος (éphēbos)
  • eu: “good,” from ancient Greek εὖ (eũ)
  • fasciata: “banded,” from Latin
  • grammo: “lined” or “striped,” from ancient Greek γραμμοποίκιλος (grammopoíkilos)
  • gyrus: “circle,” from ancient Greek γῦρος (gũros)
  • haplo: “simple” or “single,” from ancient Greek ᾰ̔πλόος (ă̔plόos)
  • hetero: “different” or “other,” from ancient Greek ἕτερος (héteros)
  • holo: “whole” or “complete,” from ancient Greek ὅλος (hólos)
  • idio: “distinct” or “peculiar,” from ancient Greek ἴδιος (ídios)
  • laeta: “happy,” from Latin
  • lividum: “blue or leaden in color,” from Latin
  • maculatus/maculata: “stained” or “spotted,” from Latin
  • metallica: “metallic,” from Latin
  • minax: “threatening” or “menacing,” from Latin
  • mira/miranda: “marvelous,” from Latin
  • mono: “one,” from ancient Greek μόνος (mόnos)
  • murinus: “mouselike” or “mouse-grey,” from Latin
  • neo: “new,” from ancient Greek νέος (néos)
  • ornata: “ornate,” from Latin
  • pelma: “sole (of the foot),” from ancient Greek πέλμᾰ (pélmă)
  • pes/pus: “foot,” from Latin
  • pilosum: “hairy” or “haired,” from Latin
  • plumi: “feather,” from Latin
  • poda: “foot” or “leg,” from ancient Greek πούς (poús)
  • poecilo: “spotted” or “variegated,” from ancient Greek ποικῐ́λος (poikĭ́los)
  • psalmo: “psalm” or “song,” from ancient Greek ψαλμός (psalmόs)
  • ptero: “wing” or “feather,” from ancient Greek πτερόν (pterόn)
  • pubescens: “hairy,” from Latin
  • pulcher/pulchra: “beautiful,” from Latin
  • purpurea: “purple,” from Latin
  • regalis: “regal” or “kingly,” from Latin
  • rosea: “rose-colored,” from Latin
  • scurria: “clownish?” from Latin scurra
  • stola: “clothing,” from ancient Greek στολᾱ́ (stolā)
  • striata/striatum: “striped” or “grooved,” from Latin
  • thele: “teat” or “nipple,” from ancient Greek θηλή (thēlḗ)
  • theria: “beast,” from ancient Greek θηρίον (thēríon)
  • thrixo: “hair,” from ancient Greek θρῐ́ξ (thrĭ́x)
  • urticans: “having nettles (urticating hairs),” from Latin
  • vagans: “wandering,” from Latin
  • versicolor: “multicolored,” from Latin

The first part of the name, which identifies the genus, must be a word which can be treated as a Latin singular noun in the nominative case. It must be unique within the purview of each nomenclatural code.

The second part of the name, which identifies the species within the genus, is also treated grammatically as a Latin word. It can have one of a number of forms:

  • The second part of a binomial may be an adjective. The adjective must agree with the genus name in gender. Latin has three genders, masculine, feminine and neuter, shown by varying endings to nouns and adjectives. The skeleton-leg tarantula has the binomial name Ephebopus murinus. Here “murinus” simply means the adjective “mouse-like” both endings agreeing in masculine. The name for the Brazilian black tarantula,  Grammostola pulchra (“pulchra” meaning beautiful) , agrees in feminine endings of the words. The Mexican species Cyclosternum palomeranum, described by Rick C. West in 2000, has both nominative neuter endings for genus and species. Cyclosternum is the only genus of tarantula that has a nominative neuter ending thus far. Some common endings for Latin adjectives in the three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter) are -us, -a, -um (as in the previous example of murinus); -is, -is, -e (e.g. tristis, meaning “sad”); and -or, -or, -us (e.g. minor, meaning “smaller”). For further information, look up Latin declension of adjectives.
  • The second part of a binomial may be a noun in the nominative case. An example is the binomial name of the Texas tan tarantula, which is Aphonopelma anax. The species name being Greek for “tribal chief” or “military leader.” Grammatically the noun is said to be in apposition to the genus name and the two nouns do not have to agree in gender; in this case, Aphonopelma is feminine and anax is masculine.
  • The second part of a binomial may be a noun in the genitive (possessive) case. The genitive case is constructed in a number of ways in Latin, depending on the declension of the noun. Common endings for masculine and neuter nouns are -ii or -i in the singular (Brachypelma hamorii) and -orum (Birupes simoroxigorum) in the plural, and for feminine nouns -ae (Avicularia merianae) in the singular and -arum (e.g. Euathlus tenebrarum) in the plural. 

Whereas the first part of a binomial name must be unique within the purview of each nomenclatural code, the second part is quite commonly used in two or more genera (e.g. murinus in both genera Pterinochilus and Ephebopus ). The full binomial name must be unique within each code. Because the species names that are adjectival agree with the genus name, it’s important for them to have adjectival agreement with the genus. This means when there is a new description paper published and a species is redescribed into another genus (e.g. Brachypelma albopilosum was redescribed as Tliltocatl albopilosus) sometimes the Latin suffix of the species name will change as well to agree with with genus change.


Maybe knowing more about these scientific names will have you noticing different features of your tarantulas, or may remind you of the regions they come from or people that described them.