Charles Darwin’s Barnacle is a year old! Not the species – that’s probably a few million years old, or at least that’s a guess given the average lifespan of a species. And not the name “Charles Darwin’s Barnacle”, which is 138 years old (the deep-sea barnacle species Regioscalpellum darwini was originally described by Hoek in 1883 as Trianguloscalpellum darwini). It’s my book: my book Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider is a year old.* It’s a little hard to believe.
People often ask me how the book has sold. I don’t really know (because other than Amazon sales rankings, I have no data), although I can tell you that it spent exactly zero weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Continue reading
They say you shouldn’t read your (book/album/movie) reviews, and I suppose they have a point.*
Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider, my book about eponymous scientific names and what they reveal about science and society, has been out long enough to have accumulated half a dozen Amazon reviews. (Incidentally, one easy thing you can do that really helps a small-time author out is to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Here are some more easy things you can do.) I’m happy that overall, people have enjoyed the book (and I think you’d enjoy it to, so stop reading this post and get to your nearest public library or bookstore). But I’m intrigued by one theme that crops up a few times: the book is “political”.
It really is a theme. Continue reading
I have a new favourite frog.
I’m late to this, as it was described and named 13 years ago (and makes regular rounds on Twitter), but I’m rather enamoured with the western Colombian frog Allobates niputidea. Not because of its looks: it’s a small brown frog with a stripe, looking almost exactly like its sister species A. talamancae and, less specifically, rather a lot like dozens upon dozens of small brownish frogs everywhere. But its name: chef’s kiss. Continue reading
A couple of weeks ago, Klaas’s cuckoo and I were featured on the Biodiversity Heritage Library blog. You should go read that post – especially the part about Klaas’s cuckoo and the origins of its name. But here’s a little context.
It’s fashionable in some circles to bemoan the fact that many scientists* rarely cite literature older than a decade or two. There are, of course, many reasons older papers go uncited. Continue reading
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
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 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
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
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
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. fontanae. C. 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