This species has a complex nomenclatural history. Kutzing (1834) divided Frustulia C.A. Agardh into numerous subgenera, including the subgenus Cyclotella containing the species Frustulia operculata . Kutzing subsequently used this name for a centric diatom species in material from Tennstadt, Germany. The centric diatom in this material is what the name Cyclotella operculata has applied to since. Briebisson (1838) elevated Cylotella to generic rank (Hakansson 1989). Hakansson (1979) discovered this mistake and demonstrated the type of Cyclotella operculata (Ag.)Kutz. was invalid being based on a species of Rhopalodia . Hakansson and Ross (1984) proposed conserving the generic name Cyclotella (Kutz.) Breb. using Kutzing's Tennstadt, Germany material as the type for the genus. In the same publication Hakansson and Ross described C. tecta , the centric diatom previously identified as C. operculata , from the Kutzing material designating it the type. The proposal was accepted (Greuter et al. 1988) and the generic name Cyclotella is valid. Latter investigation (Hakansson 1989) of Hustedt's (1927) type material for C. distinguenda revealed morphological similarities between C. tecta. and C. distinguenda. Hakansson (1989) designated C. tecta. as a latter synonym of C. distinguenda, making C. distinguenda the valid name of this species and the type of the genus.
Stoermer and Yang (1970) found Cyclotella operculata in abundance in northern Lake Michigan and suggested the taxon was indicative of large oligotrohic lakes. Earlier investigators (Briggs 1872, Thomas and Chase 1887) reported the taxon from southern Lake Michigan, possibly having been eliminated through increased eutrophication in subsequent years.
Frustulia operculata sensu Kutzing 1834, non C.A. Agardh
Cyclotella operuculata auct., non (C.A. Agardh) Breibisson