Family Group Names of Fishes

Richard van der Laan, Ronald Fricke and William Eschmeyer

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Project changes: Ron Fricke has agreed to work on this project. Richard van der Laan, Almere, the Netherlands, has joined the project. He has built an extensive database of freshwater fishes over a period of over 30 years. He has tracked family-group names as part of that project, and his information is being added to the list of family-group names. His extensive database is online as "Freshwater Fish List, 8th edition 2012."


Note: This is a preliminary draft.  Many additions have been added, but it is anticipated that this process will continue.  We are proofing entries, and the person recently examining the original family-group name proposal is mentioned in brackets: [B] Bill, [R] Ron, [L] Richard. It is suggested that these names, authorships and dates be used for further research but NOT be adopted at this time.  It is hoped that ichthyologists will contribute comments and additional family-group names, and that future presentations will be better.


Family-Group names are taxa between the genus and order – typically these are families, subfamilies and tribes, and they contain one (or more) genus.  Other categories are sometimes used, such as superfamily.  An available family-group name can be raised or lowered to another family-group category, keeping its same type genus and same authorship (poorly understood by most workers).  Family-group names are regulated by the code and are subject to priority.  However, ichthyologists have ignored priority of family-group names.  Most comprehensive works, as by Jordan and Günther, do not have accurate authors and dates for families and subfamilies. Most current authors also do not provide accurate authorships and dates or they do not provide any authorships and dates at all.  There is no database or listing of family-group names in fishes, and there is very much confusion in the literature.  The family-group names are listed below in the classification used in the current version of the Catalog of Fishes.  Names are presented as originally spelled, with the author, date and reference number as they occur in the Catalog of Fishes references.  The level proposed originally (such as family) is given in parentheses, and this is followed by the type genus.


A database was begun by the Catalog of Fishes staff in the 1980s; this was based initially on Fowler’s “Fishes of the World” and his unpublished manuscript and notes provided by the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. This was used in part by Ferraris & de Pinna (1999) in their listing of higher-level names of catfishes – the only major publication in ichthyology on family-group names.


The first family-group names were not published by Linnaeus or by many early authors.  The first available names appear in Rafinesque 1810 [ref. 3595].  If he listed a name and included the type genus (or it could easily be inferred), this was regarded as establishing a family-group name. There were no rules, so his names often seemed strange, such as Anguillidi for Anguillidae and Zifidi for Xiphiidae; but they are to be emended to current endings and spellings [Rafinesque typically listed the type genus correctly spelled, so the type genus usually was not inferred].  The type genus can be inferred in name proposed in early literature; only after 1999 was the type genus required to be stated (Art. 16.2).  Rafinesque established them as an “ordine”, but these have been interpreted as below the order, and are available family-group names (but this is open to debate; most names can date to Rafinesque 1815 if needed).  Bleeker used the ending …iformes for families; that term is now used for orders.  Names in the early literature often were proposed in categories that are not used now, such as phylanx, group, stirips, etc.  Most names proposed in the early literature were not accompanied by “nov.” or another indication that they were new.  On the other hand, in more recent literature, authors have attributed “new” or “nov.” to family-group names, when in fact they were names used at a new level, but they were not new family-group names.  The dilemma is finding the first use of a name at the family-group level.  A recent search of reprints of Whitley publications at the California Academy of Sciences resulted in finding an additional 20 family-group names not in the working draft in June 2012; most were not accompanied by “nov.” or new. Many authors have identified the author and date of each “level” (incorrectly), with a different author and date for a name used as a family and the same name used as a subfamily.


There are still some technical issues needing attention – for example, family-group names proposed between 1930 and 1961 without a description are not available (Article 13, see Ferraris & de Pinna, 1999:2).  However (Article 13.2.1) provides that these names can be made available from their original publication under certain circumstances.  The names described after 1930 will need careful research.  An unavailable name (under Article 13) can be made available again (with new authorship) by the subsequent use of the name in conjunction with a diagnosis (as proposed by Ferraris and de Pinna, 1999:2, Pseudopimelodidae).


Many available names have not been found, and much proofing is needed.  Instances are indicated after the family or subfamily name where there are priority issues.  IT IS possible to retain most old, established family-group names of fishes, so no changes should be made.  However, recent names are a different matter.  The family name Dinopercidae was described as a new family in 1986 for 2 genera (Dinoperca and Centrarchops), but there already was a family-group name with the type genus Centrarchops, so the correct name for this family is Centrarchopsidae (from Centrarchopsinae Fowler 1936), if Fowler’s name met the requirements of Article 13.


Here is how it will work when completed.  As families are split into smaller categories to show relationships of species, one can search this file.  If you divide a family or subfamily into three tribes, one will be the nominal-typical one, and it will retain the author and date of the family or subfamily.  One needs to search for available family-group names based on all genera and synonyms in the two remaining tribes.  Then the oldest available name must be used for each tribe; if there is no available name, then a new name is warranted.


Acknowledgments: George Burgess, Dave Catania, Thomas Fraser, Jon Fong, Jesse Grosso, Mysi Hoang, Jean Huber, Tomio Iwamoto, Hiro Motomura, Larry Page, Stuart Poss, Rob Robins, David Smith, Bill Smith-Vaniz, Ron Watson.


  • William N. Eschmeyer
  • Curator Emeritus
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • 55 Music Concourse Drive
  • San Francisco, CA 94118

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