Carnets Geol. 22  [Editorial Note]  

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Tethysian, Tethyan or … Tethys Ocean and Tethys

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As an editor, reviewer and author in Earth sciences I have faced more than once the tricky problem of using the appropriate qualifier for the Tethys (or derived paleogeographic entities: the Neo-tethys, the Paratethys, the Ceno-Tethys, Meso-Tethys, the Paleo-Tethys, the Proto-Tethys) in the English language. Would it be Tethysian, Tethyan, or simply Tethys (i.e., no customized qualifier)? Tethyan is rather popular among Anglo-Saxon authors but, recently, the alternative use of Tethysian has gradually increased, possibly due to the influence of authors whose native languages are Latin-derived. However, both could be wrong because, as it will be reminded hereafter, Tethys can stand alone and does not need a qualifier in the English language. Nevertheless, other languages, mostly Latin-derived languages (e.g., French, Portuguese, Romanian, or Spanish - excluding the singular case of the Italian language -), may require a qualifier (Table 1) and, additionally, taxonomy may use "-tethy-" or "-tethys-" as stems for new names.

Table 1:

lang. noun alternative names qualifier/adjective examples
(DE) (der) Tethys das Tethysmeer,
das Tethyssee
[not provided,
das Tethysfauna,
das tethyschen Ammoniten
(FR) (la) Téthys l'océan Téthys (common),
l'océan de Téthys (rare)
la faune téthysienne
(PT) (o) Tétis o mar Tétis,
o mar de Tétis
as influências tétisianas
(RO) Tethys Oceanul Tethys,
Marea Tethys
tethysian (masculine)/
tethysiana (feminine)/
tethysiene (plural)
domeniu tethysian,
domenii tethysiene
(SP) (el) Tetis el océano Tetis,
el océano de Tetis,
el mar Tetis,
el mar de Tetis
la transgresión tetisiana

To get back to where the problem started, one needs to go back to the source. In an Anglo-American journal of scientific popularization published from 1892 to 1899, Suess (1893) introduced the qualifier (adjective) "Tethyan" to name an ocean once spanning from West to East between the continents of Gondwana and Laurasia.

There are two options here:

1) either following the Mediterranean template, one could refer either to the Tethyan Sea or to the Tethyan (Table 2),

2) or following the 'Norwegian Sea' template, one should only refer to the Tethyan Sea (Table 2), with Tethyan as a qualifier (e.g., the Tethyan history).

Table 2:

author, date noun qualifier/adjective examples
Suess, 1893
(the) Tethyan(1) or
(the) Tethyan Sea(2)
(?) Tethyan the Tethyan Sea (p. 183),
the Tethyan Ocean (p. 184),
the Tethyan history (p. 184-185)
Suess, 1895
(la) Tethys Téthydien/
la communication Téthydienne (p. 1116)
Suess, 1901
(der) Tethys [none provided,
der Tethys (p. 25)
Suess, 1902
(la) Téthys [none provided] la Téthys (p. 27)
Suess, 1908
(the) Tethys [none provided,
the Tethys (p. 29)
(1) following the Mediterranean template (see Table 3)
(2) following the 'Norwegian Sea' template (see Table 3)

In any case, this sea is indeed not called the Tethys (in blatant contradiction with Suess' own statement: "This ocean we designate by the name "Tethys," ..."). In later publications (Table 2), notably in "Das Antlitz der Erde" (Suess, 1901), in its French extended translation (Suess, 1902) and its English translation (Suess, 1908), this error - possibly due to an editor, a language editor or a translator - was corrected because the term Tethys always appears as a stand-alone word, never coming as a qualifier (Table 3).

Table 3:

noun qualifier/adjective examples
(the) Atlantic Atlantic the Atlantic Ocean,
the Atlantic history
(the) Barents Sea [none available,
the Barents Sea,
the history of the Barents Sea
(the) Norwegian Sea Norwegian the Norwegian Sea,
the history of the Norwegian Sea
(the) Mediterranean Mediterranean the Mediterranean Sea,
the Mediterranean history
(the) Tethys [none provided,
the Tethys Sea,
the Tethys Ocean,
the Tethys history

Although the use of an adjective is not mandatory in the English language, introducing new names in taxonomy (e.g., adjectivial epithets for species, names of genera, and names of taxa above the rank of genus) may require a clarification. The Greek name of the goddess Τηθύς is composed from the root Τηθύ-, transcripted as Tethy-, and the nominative termination -ς (final s).

Therefore, correct derivatives based on her name should use the stem -tethy- preceded by a prefix or followed by a suffix. In the same vein, Tethys, the full modern German or English name of the eponymic paleogeographic entity, could be used as the stem of related derivatives.

A number of taxa the valid names of which refer to Τηθύς have been described long before the Tethys Ocean, was defined by Suess. The first of these taxa is the genus Tethys Linnaeus, 1767, from which derives the family name Tethydidae Rafinesque, 1815. There are also a number of species having " tethys" in full as specific epithet, i.e., as a noon in apposition (i.e., Phylloceras (Hypophylloceras) tethys (Orbigny, 1841); Lavignon tethys Orbigny, 1850; Oceanodroma tethys (Bonaparte, 1852); Bembidion (Phyla) tethys Netolitzky, 1926; Halobates (Halobates) tethys Herring, 1961; Kallichroma tethys (J. Kohlmeyer & E. Kohlmeyer, 1965); Molgula tethys F. Monniot & C. Monniot, 1974; Callionymus tethys Fricke, 1993; Prunum tethys Lussi & Smith, 1999; Conus tethys (Petuch & Sargent, 2011); Phyllocnistis tethys Moreira & Vargas, 2012; Brockmanniella tethys Álvarez-Blanco & Blanco, 2014).

As discussed above, "-tethy-" is therefore the correct stem for names deriving from the Greek name of the goddess Τηθύς (but it also appears as the root for mispelled names deriving from the Tethys Ocean). Changing prefixes or suffixes or both have led to:

1) numerous genera of Demospongia starting with Tethya Lamarck, 1815, from which derives the name of the Family Tethyidae Gray, 1848 (which comprises Anthotethya M. Sarà & A. Sarà, 2002, Burtonitethya Sarà, 1994, Laxotethya M. Sarà & A. Sarà, 2002, Nucleotethya M. Sarà & Bavestrello, 1996, Oxytethya M. Sarà & A. Sarà, 2002, Stellitethya M. Sarà, 1994, Tectitethya M. Sarà, 1994, Tethyastra M. Sarà in Hooper & Soest, 2002, and Tethycometes M. Sarà, 1994), as well as two other genera of Demospongia, i.e., Tethyspira Topsent, 1890, Tethytimea Laubenfels, 1936, and Eolipastrotethya Łukowiak & Pisera, 2016;

2) various genera from other animal, fungal or phycological groups (i.e., Tethyopsis Stewart, 1870; Tethygeneia Barnard, 1972; Tethylembos Myers, 1988; Tethyaster Sladen, 1889; Tethyrhynchia Logan in Logan & Zibrowius, 1994, from which derives the family name Tethyrhynchiidae Logan in Logan & Zibrowius, 1994; Tethysaurus Bardet et al., 2003; Tethygonium Just & Wilson, 2007; Tethydraco Longrich et al., 2018; Tethymyxine Miyashita et al., 2019), as well as the Clade Tethytheria Mc Kenna, 1995;

3) numerous species (i.e., Craniella tethyoides Schmidt, 1870; Loxosomella tethyae (Salensky, 1877); Stelletta tethyopsis Carter, 1880; Stelletta tethyoides Lendenfeld, 1888; Axinyssa tethyoides Kirkpatrick, 1903; Lankesteria tethyi Bogolepova, 1953; Timea tethya (Laubenfels, 1954); Timea tethyoides Burton, 1959; Trachycladus tethyoides Burton, 1959; Higginsia tethyoides Lévi, 1960; Colossendeis tethya Turpaeva, 1974; Briggera paratethyos Ross & Sims, 1985; Ingolfiella (Tethydiella) Ruffo & Vigna Taglianti, 1989; Archinome tethyana Borda et al., 2013; Stelletta tethytimeata Calcinai et al., 2017).

The remainder of the generic names or specific epithets refers to the Tethys Ocean. As discussed above, "-tethys-" is then the right stem for names deriving from the English name of the Tethys Ocean. Changing prefixes or suffixes or both resulted in creating:

1) some genera including the first of them, Delavalia tethysensis (Monard, 1928), the suffix of which clearly points to the paleogeographic entity, but also Tethysia Donze, 1975, Tethysicodium Dragastan in Toomey & Nitecki, 1985, Tethysbaena Wagner, 1994, Tethysetta Dumitrica, 1997, Tethysocarnia Senowbari-Daryan et al., 2001, Tethysiella Kotlyar et al., 2004, Tethyshadros Dalla Vecchia, 2009, Tethysthrips Nel et al., 2010, Boreotethys Parker, 2016, Pseudotethysia Karpuk et al., 2019, and Tethysphytum K. Sciuto et al., 2021;

2) some additional species (i.e., Trochoturbella (Proturboella) tethysiana Conti & Fischer, 1982; Heteromysis (Heteromysis) tethysiana Băcescu, 1983; Procerithium (Procerithium) tethysianum Fischer in Fischer et al., 2001; Neoprincipia tethysiana Cózar & Vachard, 2003; Pyroderces tethysella Koster & Sinev, 2003; Ciliopagurus tethysianus Beschin et al., 2007; Cypraeorbis tethysianus Dolin & Pacaud, 2009; Montemagrechirus tethysianus De Angeli & Ceccon, 2015; Eoacanthacaris tethysianus Beschin et al., 2016).

In conclusion, Tethys is a stand-alone modern noun, which does not require a qualifier in the English language. The use of the qualifiers Tethyan or Tethysian should be strongly discouraged. Taxa the names of which comprise the stem -tethy- are named after the Greek Goddess; those the names of which bear the stem -tethys- are named after the German (Suess, 1901), French (Suess, 1902) and English (Suess, 1908) Tethys Ocean. There was too much confusion on these two last points.


Special thanks to Bruno Ferré, Malcolm Hart, Michel Moullade, Brian R. Pratt, and Robert W. Scott for their encouraging comments on the draft version of this short note.

Bibliographic references

Suess E. (1893).- II. Are great ocean depths permanent?.- Natural Sciences. A monthly review of scientific progress, London & New York, vol. 2, no. 13, p. 180-187. URL:

Suess E. (1895).- Note sur l'histoire des océans.- Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des Séances de l'Académie des Sciences, Paris, 2e Semestre, T. CXXI, no. 27, p. 1113-1116. URL:

Suess E. (1901).- Das Antlitz der Erde. Dritter Band. Erste Hälfte.- F. Tempsky, Wien, 508 p. URL:

Suess E. (1902).- La face de la Terre. Tome III (1re Partie) (translated by E. de Margerie).- Armand Colin, Paris, 530 p. URL:

Suess E. (1908).- The face of the Earth. Vol. III (translated by H.B.C. Sollas).- Clarendon Press, Oxford, 400 p. URL:

Published online in final form (pdf) on August 10, 2022
DOI 10.2110/carnets.2022.22EN1

[Editor: Michel Moullade; technical editor: Bruno Granier]

Bruno Granier

2 impasse Charles Martel, 29217 Plougonvelin (France)


Granier B. (2022).- Tethysian, Tethyan or … Tethys Ocean and Tethys.- Carnets Geol., Madrid, vol. 22, Editorial Note 1, p. 681-683.