Aquatic scientific names in the news …


A an adult female Ragfish measuring around 1.6 metres in length was found on the 7th of January washed ashore near the dock in Gustavus in Southeast Alaska (Alaska Dispatch News 7th Jan.).


         Images: Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve/Facebook

A seldom seen deepwater fish whose life history is poorly documented, they are a North Pacific species with a distribution ranging from Southeastern Alaska to Japan. There is a difference in both morphology and habitat between juveniles and adults; as they grow they lose their pelvic fins and both the dorsal and anal fins reduce, at one time the different life stages were considered to be two separate species; adults occur near bottom usually at depths from 18 to 732 m (1420 m max. recorded) while juveniles can be found in shallow water or offshore near the surface.

RagfishPlate illustrating supposed species showing difference in morphology
(click to enlarge)

Icosteus aenigmaticus Lockington, 1880, the Ragfish


Icosteus – Greek, Ic-, eikw (εικω), yield, give way; –osteus (οστεον), bone. Loosely speaking – yielding bones.
aenigmaticus – Latin, like an enigma, obscure, enigmatic.

From the original description where the derivation of the common name can be seen:

Etymology: εικω, to yield; οστεον, bone.

Vertebrae numerous; vertebral column highly flexible and soft.
Cranial bones tolerably firm, those of the face and opercles, &c., highly, flexible.
Entire body characterized by a lack of firmness, as it can be doubled up as readily as a piece of soft, thick rag.

Lockington, W. N. 1880 Description of a new genus and some new species of California fishes (Icosteus aenigmaticus and Osmerus attenuatus). Proceedings of the United States National Museum v. 3


AQUATICAL•LATIN is an ongoing project investigating the etymology of the scientific names applied to aquatic species, particularly animals such as fishes and invertebrates.

This site is intended as a resource for aquarists, naturalists, anglers, academics, divers, and anyone else curious about the meaning behind the names.

In addition to the website there is a book:

Aquatical Latin: Latin for aquarists: an etymology of tropical marine reef species.
Volume 1: Reef Fishes

This is the first in a series of books looking at the etymology of popular aquarium and angling species of fishes.

For more about the book go to: AQUATICAL•LATIN – the Book


The Lexicon is a work in progress, offering a generalised guide to the meaning of the Latin and Greek words used in the formation of the compound words used in the construction of scientific names.

Contact Us

If you’re curious about the scientific name of any particular species of aquatic animal or if you have any questions regarding the site, please contact AQUATICAL•LATIN via queries@aquaticallatin.info and we’ll do our best to answer your query.

Regarding the unusual name of this website, AQUATICAL•LATIN – the word ‘aquatical’ meaning, “of aquatic nature; having to do with water”. Although described by the OED as obsolete, I have used this word rather than the more usual ‘aquatic’ in homage to botanist William Stearn and his seminal work, Botanical Latin (1966), which I have found to be an invaluable guide to the study of the Greek and Latin words used in scientific names.