Wonderful Latin names: Eriovixia gryffindori

Photos: Eriovixia gryffindori, from Ahmed et al. 2016 Indian J. Arachnology 5:24-27; photo Sumukha J.N., used by permission.  Sorting hat, on display at La Cité du Cinéma (Saint-Denis, Paris), in “Harry Potter, l’exposition”; photo by Suzelfe CC BY-SA 4.0 (crop).

A new spider species, Eriovixia gryffindori, has recently been discovered and described from southwestern India (by a team consisting of Javed Ahmed, Rajashree Khalap and Sumukha J.N.).  The new spider’s name makes me smile.  The species name gryffindori, of course, comes from the Harry Potter universe*.  It’s not the first species name to be derived that way (consider also the spider Aname aragog and the wasp Ampulex dementor) – but I admire the naming first for its appropriateness, and second for the way the authors dedicate it.

sortinghat-cropThe name gryffindori comes from the spider’s startling resemblance to the Sorting Hat.  For those of you who aren’t Potter fans, the Sorting Hat is an enchanted hat that assigns incoming students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to one of four houses.  In the books the Sorting Hat is described merely as “a pointed wizard’s hat… patched and frayed and extremely dirty”, but in the movies it has the same bent-over tip and the same brown and grey as the spider.  But why gryffindori, rather than slytherini, hufflepuffi, or ravenclawi?  Ah, because the Sorting Hat originally belonged to Godric Gryffindor (one of the four founders of Hogwarts).  It’s easy to give a new species a pop-culture name, but some are definitely stretches.  This one fits the spider and tells (or evokes) a story.

I’m even more pleased by the authors’ dedication of the name.  They explain its etymology this way:

This uniquely shaped spider derives its name from the fabulous…sorting hat, owned by….Godric Gryffindor…and stemming from the powerful imagination of Ms. J.K. Rowling, wordsmith extraordinaire.  An ode from the authors, for magic lost and found, in an effort to draw attention to the fascinating, but oft overlooked, world of invertebrates and their secret lives.  (edited for length; original in the paper here.)

For me, this has it all.  The explanation is clear, and the tribute is heartfelt.  Actually, there are two tributes here.  First, there’s the praise for J.K. Rowling and her creation of the Harry Potter series.  Those books may or may not be among your favourites**, but there’s no denying that they’re a stunning work of the imagination and that they’ve drawn more children into the magic of reading than anything else that’s been written in years.  “Magic found”, indeed!  Second, there’s the pitch for the “fascinating but oft overlooked world of invertebrates and their secret lives”.  Most animal biodiversity is among the insects and arachnids, of course, not the charismatic vertebrates that bask in the public spotlight but are (arguably) evolution’s afterthought.  Spiders in particular are little-known and widely feared.  If a tie to Harry Potter draws some people in to the natural history of spiders – which should enchant people, not frighten them – then that’s a win for Eriovixia gryffindori.

© Stephen Heard (sheard@unb.ca) December 12, 2016

A tip of the Sorting Hat to Catherine Scott for pointing me to this marvellous spider, and thanks to the authors for allowing my use of Eriovixia images.

 Related posts:

*^What about the genus name Eriovixia? That was coined by Allan Archer (1951, American Museum Novitates 1487:1-52).  Unfortunately, he offered no etymology, so while it has a nice ring to it, I don’t know what it means.

**^I’ll make the heretical confession that they’re not actually among mine.  I love the rich and imaginative detail, and I love what they’ve done to draw children into reading and publishers into expanding their lists of childrens’ books.  But the stories themselves never grabbed me, even though I was always (and still am) a fan of childrens’ fantasy books.  What has suited me better?  Try Alan Garner’s Elidor, Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea Cycle, or Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence, for a start.  But of course your mileage may vary (and I welcome your suggestions in the Replies).


18 thoughts on “Wonderful Latin names: Eriovixia gryffindori

  1. Colin Purrington

    I found a page in Italian (http://wikivisually.com/lang-it/wiki/Eriovixia) that says this about the origin of the genus name: “Il nome deriva dal greco ἔριον, èrion, cioè lana e dal latino vix, cioè appena, a malapena, probabilmente per la rada lanugine composta di peli che lo avvolge.” Google Translate provides this: “The name derives from the greek ἔριον, Erion, ie wool and from Latin vix, that is just, barely, probably for the fluff sparse composed of hair that surrounds him.” I’m sure an actual person could improve upon that, but it will at least give some sense of the etymology.


    1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

      Thanks, Colin! That makes sense (although it remains unclear, I guess, why that naming was appropriate to the genus – which part of the spider was scarcely woolly?). Kudos for tracking that down – I’m a bit embarrassed I didn’t figure it out myself 🙂


        1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

          That’s certainly plausible. In the original description of the genus by Archer (1951), the only reference to hairs is “Carapace pilose, especially on the cephalon” – which certainly doesn’t fit. The diagnosis you found is clearer and perhaps the pedipalp character is what Archer had in mind but didn’t mention?

          I’ve really drawn you down a rabbithole this morning, haven’t I? 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Elinor

    Possibly the best in young adult fantasy is Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. “The Book of Three” is the first in the series.


    1. MZ

      Agreed — in fact, almost anything he wrote is genius. I’ve actually discovered a few books of his more recently, though he died several years ago. Highly recommended.


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  5. Mike Kokkinn

    I was thrilled to discover your witty and interesting blog. I have always tried to work out the meanings and origins of scientific names. The ones I like best are those that give an apt description of the particular species. Today, after watching pompylid wasps dragging large spiders into underground chambers here in my Adelaide garden, I came to wondering about the origin of the Family name Pompylidaea. I was kind of delighted by the answer I found. You may be too.


    1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

      Do tell? The name comes from Fabricius (1775), which I haven’t tracked down, but most workers at the time didn’t explain their etymologies. I found suggestions that the root “Pompilus” means “pilot fish”, but I’m not sure how this connects with those wonderful wasps. Tell me more!


      1. Michael Kokkinn

        I found the same Latin root and concluded that the assumption was, upon seeing the wasp, dragging the spider along by its head, that the spider was ‘piloting’ it. Just as wrong as imagining a pilot-fish steering a shark. Let me know if you want an image of one of my garden wasps you should feel free to use. Great Blog!
        All the best,

        Liked by 1 person

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