Yvonne Carts-Powell

Naming the animals

In beautiful, hilarious, Science on September 29, 2011 at 10:26 am

Drawing of the snail Ba humbugi, Figure 74 from Solem 1982 (Endodontoid land snails from Pacific Islands (Mollusca : Pulmonata : Sigmurethra). Fieldiana. Zoology. Special Publications. Part 2. Found via djpmapleferryman's flickr account here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/63319497@N00/3165512961/

Ba humbugi. (Figure 74 from Solem 1982, Endodontoid land snails from Pacific Islands (Mollusca : Pulmonata : Sigmurethra). Fieldiana. Zoology. Special Publications. Part 2. Found via djpmapleferryman's flickr account (linked),


For reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, I am reading parts of a textbook by Richard Brusca called Invertebrates. (I should note that I have no particular interest in invertebrates.)  Nevertheless,  I saw this section in Chapter 2, page 26 and needed to share. (I added the links.)

The names given to animals and plants are usually descriptive in some way, or perhaps indicative of the geographic area in which the species occurs. Others are named in honor of persons for one reason or another. Occasionally one runs across purely whimsical names, or even names that seem to have been formulated for seemingly diabolical reasons.*

Footnote *:

Among the many clever names given to animals are Agra vation (a tropical beetle that was extremely difficult for Dr. Terry Erwin to collect) and Lightiella serendipida (a small crustacean; the generic name honors the famous Pacific naturalist S. F. Light, 1886-1947, while the trivial name is taken from “serendipity,” a word coined by Walpole in allusion to the tale of “The Three Princes of Serendip,” who in their travels were always discovering, by chance or sagacity, things they did not seek—the term is said to aptly describe the circumstances of the initial discovery of this species). The nineteenth-century British naturalist W. E. Leach erected numerous genera of isopod crustaceans whose spellings were anagrams of the name Caroline. Exactly who Caroline was (and the nature of her relationship with Professor Leach) is still being debated, but the prevailing theory implicates Caroline of Brunswick, who was in the public eye at this time in history. It is said that Caroline was badly treated by her husband (the Prince Regent, later George IV), and that she was herself a lady of questionable fidelity. Leach, from Devon, may have taken the side of support for Caroline by honoring her with a long series of generic names, including Cirolana, Lanocira, Rocinela, Nerocila, Anilocra, Conilera, Olincera, and others. A light-hearted attitude toward naming organisms has not always been without Freudian overtones, as there also exist Thetys vagina (a large, hollow, tubular pelagic salp), Succinea vaginacontorta (a hermaphroditic snail whose vagina twists in corkscrew fashion), Phallus impudicus (a slime-covered mushroom), and Amanita phalloides and Amanita vaginata (two species of highly toxic mushrooms around which numerous aboriginal ceremonies and legends exist). The hoopoe (a bird), Upupa epops, is euphoniously named for its call. The fish Zappa confluentus was named by a fan of Frank Zappa’s, and the Grateful Dead have a fly named in their honor (Dicrotendipes thanatogratus). There is a bivalve named Abra cadabra, a bloodsucking spider Draculoides bramstokeri, and a wasp Aha ha. Even Linnaeus created a curious name for a common ameba, Chaos chaos. And, in a stroke of whimsy, the entomologist G. W. Kirkaldy created the bug genera Polychisme (“Polly kiss me”), Peggkhisme, Marichisme, Dolychisme, and Florichisme. There are fish genera named Zeus, Satan, Zen, Batman, and Sayonara. There are insect genera named Cinderella, Aloha, Oops, and Euphoria. Some other clever binomens include Leonardo davincii (a moth), Phthiria relativitae (a fly), and Ba humbugi (a snail). A few biologists have gone overboard in erecting names for new animals, and many binomens exceed 30 letters in length, including those of the chaetognath Sagitta pseudoserratadentatoides (31 letters) and the common North Pacific sea urchin Strongylocentrotus drobachiensis (31 letters). Amphipod crustaceans probably win the grand prize in the longest-name category, with Siemknkiewicziechinogammarus siemienkiewitschii (47 letters) and Cancelloidokytodermogammarus (Loveninsuskytodermogammarus) loveni (61 letters, including the subgeneric name).

(While seeking illustrations for this post, I also discovered on the web the blog of Alex Wild, with his Friday Beetle posts.  If you like ants and similar critters, Alex’s blog is a goldmine of beautiful photos. )

Also worth noting: Many many beautiful images of critters in the flickr “Encyclopedia of Life” group pool.

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