Image: the David Bowie spider, Heteropoda davidbowie. KS Seshadri, CC BY-SA 4.0 via wikimedia.org
Last week I hit a big milestone. I hit submit not just on another journal paper, but on something much more fun: my new book. I’m both relieved and excited!
The book will be called “Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider: How Scientific Names Celebrate Adventurers, Heroes, and Even a Few Scoundrels”*. Continue reading
Image: Scotch thistle, Onopordum acanthium via wikimedia.org, © Net-breuer CC BY-SA 3.0.
I have a paper cut-out Nativity scene that comes out every year around Christmas (it’s a childhood tradition that’s stuck with me despite my lack of religious conviction to give it meaning). There’s a donkey near the manger, of course, and seeing it reminded me I’ve been meaning to mention the wonderful (?) etyomology of the Scotch thistle’s Latin name. Scotch thistle is native to Europe and western Asia, although it’s become invasive in many dryish places around the world. And it has a Latin name with a certain je-ne-sais-quoi.
Quite a while back, I wrote about the black-billed thrush, saddled with the quite unfortunate name Turdus ignobilis. It doesn’t quite mean “the ignoble turd”, but my inner 9-year-old would like it if it did. But Scotch thistle – ah, my inner 9-year-old can go to town. Continue reading
Image: Razorbill (Alca torda), photo S. Heard.
(This is a lightly edited version of a post that originally ran in March 2015. But you probably didn’t see it then.)
If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you’ll know that I have something of an obsession with Latin names. Or, I should say, “Latin” names. As my pedantic friend Alex has pointed out to me repeatedly and correctly, what I’ve been calling “Latin names” all my life (for instance, here, here, and here) are not always Latin at all. As Alex points out, “scientific names” is a more accurate term (although I still use “Latin name” here on Scientist Sees Squirrel; here’s why).
While a large fraction of Latin names have Latin derivations, there are examples of names based on words from many, many languages (although their form is generally Latinized.) Greek is, unsurprisingly, the next most common; but there are many less obvious ones. So I thought it would be fun to dig up some good examples, and I present them here in the form of a quiz. Continue reading
Photo: Spurlingia forsteriana, from the collection of the Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie, Leiden (photo released to public domain). No photos of S. darwini appear to be online.
“How many species have been named for Charles Darwin?”, I wondered a couple of hours ago, before tumbling down an internet rabbithole looking for the answer. The answer, as I’m sure you’d guess, is a lot. This paper lists about 260 animal taxa named for Darwin (I’m excluding the ones named after places that had in their turn been named after Darwin). But there are plenty of plants, too, so the best answer I can find to my question is the maddeningly imprecise “hundreds”. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Photo: Lt. Worf, the Klingon Chief of Security on the USS Enterprise-D, © patrles71 via flickr.com, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Worf has not named (will not name?) any species, but he could. At least one has been named for him.
If you’ve been reading Scientist Sees Squirrel for a while, you’ll know that I’m weirdly fascinated by the etymologies of species’ Latin names. Actually, “Latin” names don’t always have Latin etymologies, and names have been derived from a surprising diversity of languages. In fact, a while back I mentioned in passing that it would be perfectly legitimate, according to the codes of zoological and botanical nomenclature, to coin a “Latin” name from a Klingon derivation. This, of course, raises an obvious question: has anyone? Continue reading
Photos: Commerson’s Dolphins (Cephalorhynchus commersonii) in the Strait of Magellan, by Miguel Vieira via flickr.com; CC BY 2.0. Bougainvillea by Andrew Schmidt via publicdomainpictures.net, released to public domain. Syngrapha hochenwarthi, by Dumi via wikimedia.org, CC BY-SA 3.0
Everyone knows, of course, that Latin names are often based on names of people: the namer might choose to honour a friend, a colleague, a celebrity, a prominent public figure, or a deserving scientist. But do namers ever succumb to the temptation to honour themselves? If I were to describe a new goldenrod species, say, could or should I name it Solidago heardi?
I’d never thought about this until I stumbled across a claimed case of such ego-naming. Continue reading
Image: xkcd #725, by Randall Munroe, CC BY-NC 2.5
If you’ve been hanging around Scientist Sees Squirrel, you’ve noticed that I frequently return to the fascinating stories behind the scientific, or Latin, names of Earth’s species. (If you haven’t, you may think using “fascinating” and “Latin names” in the same sentence is a bit much. But I beg to differ.) But which are they – “scientific names” or “Latin names”? Continue reading
Photos: Magnolia blossoms CC0 via pixabay.com; bust of Pierre Magnol CC BY-SA 3.0 by Albertvillanovadelmoral via wikimedia.org
Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I write for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden. I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license . If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.
Our Garden has hundreds of plant species – many planted, and many more growing wild. That’s just the tip of the botanical iceberg, though – there are about 400,000 plant species on Earth. Keeping track of these is a big challenge, and of course the first step is to give them all names. Continue reading
Photos: S. aromaticum flowers by Hafiz Issadeen CC BY-ND 2.0 via flickr.com; S. aromaticum leaves by Forest & Kim Starr CC BY 3.0 via wikimedia.org.
A couple of weeks ago I described the evolutionary history in each jar of my mango chutney. My chutney has 19 botanical ingredients, and I looked up the Latin name of each one to locate it on the angiosperm phylogeny. I was delighted, in doing so, to discover that cloves are Syzygium aromaticum*.
The species name aromaticum is certainly appropriate to cloves, which have one of the loveliest aromas to grace my kitchen. We can thank Linnaeus for aromanticum, but that’s not what makes the clove tree the 6th installment in my series on Wonderful Latin Names. Instead, it’s the genus name Syzygium that made my day. That’s because it shares roots with one of my very favourite English words, syzygy. Who wouldn’t love a word that flies off the tongue like a feather-fletched arrow leaving a bow? A word with three vowels, all of them y’s? A word with meanings in poetry, biology, and astronomy? Continue reading