Category Archives: Latin names

A new (and unfortunate) record: the longest Latin name

Everyone likes a world record, right? Meet the newly described myxobacterium Myxococcus llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis. That’s right: 73 letters (68 if you count by Welsh orthography, treating ‘ch’ and ‘ll’ as digraphs).  The previous (probable*) record holder, the soldier fly Parastratiosphecomyia stratiosphecomyioides, is only 42 letters, so I think we have a winner by somewhat more than a nose. (The record for shortest name, by the way, is held by Yi qi among others. Because genus and species names must have at least 2 letters each, this record can never be broken.)

So, authorship team**, achievement unlocked.

Is this a good Latin name or a terrible, horrible, very bad, no good Latin name? Continue reading

Why don’t we capitalize taxonomic names used as adjectives?

Sometimes important matters keep me up at night: how we’ll end the pandemic, how I can best contribute to the fight against climate change, what I should cook for dinner tomorrow. Other times, it’s the little mysteries.

The beautiful dragonfly above, the lined hooktail, is a member of the dragonfly family Gomphidae.  Or, if I were to phrase that differently, the lined hooktail is a beautiful gomphid dragonfly.  Did you notice the peculiarity there?  “Gomphidae” (noun), but “gomphid” (adjective). Why? Continue reading

This new flag is even better than you think

This November, there are a lot of very consequential elections and referenda in the United States. Most of them I won’t comment on here (although it wouldn’t be hard to infer my thoughts about the highest-stakes one). But one referendum, in one state, is – perhaps surprisingly – right up Scientist Sees Squirrel’s alley.  The people of the state of Mississippi will vote, I hope, to approve the new state flag pictured above.

The proposed flag won a design competition and will be on the ballot for approval in November.  It will replace an older flag that included an inset Confederate battle emblem, and I hope everyone knows why its time is (more than) up.* Continue reading

How art met science in “Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider”

I’ve written a lot here on Scientist Sees Squirrel about my new book, Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider.  That is, I’ve written a lot about the book’s subject (eponymous Latin names; or, those Latin names that honour people).*  I haven’t written as much about the illustrations. It’s time to rectify that, and I’m thrilled that I can point you to a new online exhibition of Emily Damstra’s wonderful illustrations, and an interview with Emily and me about our experience working together.

I knew from the start that Charles Darwin’s Barnacle needed illustrations. Continue reading

Diversifying scientific names, and diversifying science

Many of Earth’s species bear scientific names based on the names of people – for instance, Charles Darwin’s barnacle (Regioscalpellum darwini) and David Bowie’s spider (Heteropoda davidbowie).  My new book explores some of the things we can learn from such “eponymous” scientific names.  These names let us see something of the quirks and personalities of the scientists who engage in the creative act of naming.  They also open a window on who scientists think might deserve the honour (well, usually it’s an honour) of having a species named after them.  There are a lot of things you can see through that window.  One of them has to do with diversity.

I don’t mean biodiversity, although it’s true enough that the Earth’s incredible biodiversity is what provides the window of naming in the first place.  Instead, I mean diversity of people.  Who are the people who have species named after them?  Perhaps not surprisingly, answering that question reveals a scientific community with a longstanding diversity problem. Continue reading

Lessons from a little fish

In northeastern Germany, about 75 km north of Berlin, a little lake sits nestled in the woods.  In the lake’s depths swims a little fish – a dwarf cisco, Coregonus fontanae.  In the fish’s name, there’s a story tucked away.

Coregonus fontanae is one of a pair of cisco species in Lake Stechlin. Around the world, ciscoes (like many other fish) have evolved pairs of ecologically distinct species sharing lakes – in this case, the shallow-water Coregonus albula and its descendent species, the deeper-water C. fontanaeC. albula is widespread across northern Europe, but C. fontanae occurs only in the 4 km2 or so of Lake Stechlin. It looks a lot like its ancestor, except for its dwarfism, and it was formally described and named only in 2003.

Michael Schulz and Jörg Freyhof, who discovered and named the new cisco species, had a choice. Continue reading

History, conservation, and privilege: all in a falcon’s name

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I’m a little bit obsessed with eponymous scientific names.  When I notice one, I often find myself trying to guess its origin.  Sometimes I’m right, or at least close.  Falco eleonorae was definitely not one of those times.

Falco eleonorae, or Eleonora’s Falcon, is a mid-sized falcon that breeds mostly in the Mediterranean and overwinters mostly in Madagascar.  It’s a handsome bird whose name poses a question: who was Eleonora? Continue reading

My new book, “Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider”, is out today!

It’s today!  It’s real!  It’s here!  My new book, I mean.

If that sounds like I’m a bit excited, it’s because I am.  I’ve been working on Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider for about four years, and finally I can share it with all of you.  Continue reading

Look, Ma, I’m in the Nautilus!

No, not that one.  This one.

More specifically: the Nautilus (the on-line science magazine, not the submarine) has an excerpt from my almost-but-not-quite-yet-available book, Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider.  It’s on their blog, and you can find it here.

The Nautilus’s editors had their pick of anything from the book, and they chose an excerpt from Chapter 6: David Bowie’s Spider, Beyoncé’s Fly, and Frank Zappa’s Jellyfish. And that’s how my byline came to sit right above a large photo of Beyoncé in full concert regalia.  Continue reading

Wonderful Latin names: Liriomyza ivorcutleri

t’s been a while since I’ve added to my Wonderful Latin Names series – posts celebrating Latin names that strike me as interestingi, or beautiful, or just fun to say.  I guess that’s mostly because I’d been writing a whole book on the topic of Latin names – eponymous ones, in particular.  That project is in the hands of the printers now, but of course I wasn’t able to pack every Latin name I like into the book.  So now I can celebrate some of the others.  Today: the leaf mining fly Liriomyza ivorculteri.

I love leaf mining flies. Continue reading