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What is the ICZN (International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature)?

By R. Kayne
Updated: May 21, 2024

ICZN, or the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, is responsible for assigning unique scientific names to animals in keeping with existing international taxonomic standards.

Taxonomy is an ordered system of classification that indicates natural relationships between organisms. ICZN is not involved in structuring taxonomy, but will address taxonomical issues that arise that would impact nomenclature. However, ICZN's real task is simply to assign names based on a relationship, if any, to the kinds and groups of existing animals listed in a taxonomic classification.

Proper naming is vital to many branches of science including zoology, veterinary science, geology, paleontology, and more; making ICZNs work more formidable and vital than it might first appear.

ICZN is responsible for publishing the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, which lays out universally accepted rules for assigning names to animals. ICZN also rules on problems that arise relating to nomenclature. Their goal is to reach solutions that will be internationally accepted.

Zoological nomenclature is no easy task, with millions of animals already recognized and some 17,000 more added every year. Due to the complexities involved and the ever-flowing multitude of new entries, problems are inevitable. When they are brought to the attention of ICZN, they are published in the quarterly Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature, so that the zoological community can discuss them prior to ICZN deciding the matter.

The Commission operates under the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS), with members elected by hidden ballot. The voters are zoologists in attendance of of IUBS assemblies or other related international organizations.

ICZN was established in 1895 and currently has 28 members from 21 countries. It is supported in part by its publications and also by donations from a number of countries and individuals. It is also supported by The American Association for Zoological Nomenclature and the European Association for Zoological Nomenclature.

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