Naming Lepidoptera

Remember all those acronyms taught in school to help you remember Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species? Here is the classification for insects, their orders, and the families of Lepidoptera, along with some personal notes about the groups.

Kingdom = Animalia (all animals)
Phylum = Arthropoda (all arthropods, includes spiders and centipedes)
Class = Insecta (insects)
Blattaria - Cockroaches
Coleoptera - Beetles
Collembola - Springtails
Dermaptera - Earwigs
Diplura - Two-pronged Bristle-tails
Diptera - True Flies
Embioptera - Web Spinners
Ephemeroptera - Mayflies
Grylloblatodea - Ice Bugs or Rock Crawlers
Hemiptera - True Bugs
Hymenoptera - Ants, Bees, and Wasps
Isoptera - Termites
Lepidoptera - Butterflies and Moths
Mallophaga - Biting Lice
Mantodea - Mantids
Mecoptera - Scorpionflies
Neuroptera - Lacewings, Antlions
Odonata - Dragonflies, Damselflies
Orthoptera - Grasshoppers, Crickets, Katydids
Phasmatodea - Stick-Insects
Plecoptera - Stoneflies
Psocoptera - Bark and Book Lice
Siphonaptera - Fleas
Siphunculata - Sucking Lice
Strepsiptera - Stylops
Thysanoptera - Thrips
Thysanura - Silverfish
Trichoptera - Caddis Flies
Zoraptera - Zorapterans

Within the order Lepidoptera, representatives of the butterfly families and subfamilies that occur in the Pacific Northwest are as follows.  Click on the images to view at full-size.

All of these names (Kingdom through Family) are always capitalized, but never italicized.  Genus names are always capitalized and italicized, and species and subspecies are never capitalized but always italicized.  For example, the western tiger swallowtail would be classified as follows:
Kingdom > Phylum        > Class    > Order          > Family          > Genus  > species
Animalia > Arthropoda > Insecta > Lepidoptera > Papilionidae > Papilio > rutulus

You also may have noticed that the ending of names in the different groups are the same.  Most insect orders end in "ptera" which comes from the Greek word for "wing".  Family names always end in "dae", pronounced "dee", and subfamily names always end in "nae".

The practice of classifying all species with a genus and species name is called "binomial (two-name) nomenclature".  Many species also have several subspecies names, but not all.  The use of subspecies names is helpful in differentiating between geographically distinct populations of the same species, or populations that otherwise appear different in some way, but not enough to merit the naming of a new species.  Sometimes after research and observation, a subspecies will be elevated to a new species, or a species may be demoted to a subspecies of another similar species.  The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), run by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, regulates this process.  If you find yourself confused by changing species names, the best source to refer to is the relatively new Butterflies of America website, which is constantly being updated with information, photos, and name changes.