Image: Gnorimoscheme gallaesolidaginis (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae), © Tom Murray CC BY-ND-NC 1.0
Warning: judgy and subjective.
If you’ve been hanging around Scientist Sees Squirrel, you’ll know I have a strange and nerdy fascination with Latin names of plants and animals. People often think (my undergraduates always think) Latin names are long, obscure, boring, and unpronounceable. But they’re wrong. Latin names can be wonderful – and I have a series of posts saying so. They can be delightful to say. They can celebrate scientific heroes or pop-culture ones. They can keep alive the memory of people otherwise forgotten. Sometimes they can do all those things at once. I think of Latin names as loose threads that, when pulled on, often reveal unexpected and fascinating stories.
But. Continue reading
Images: Salacca zalacca, botanical print from unknown source, presumed public domain; via Swallowtail Garden Seeds. Salak fruits by Midori CC BY-3.0 via wikimedia.org.
Latin names have a reputation as horribly difficult to pronounce. Sometimes this is true: I’ve worked on the moth Gnorimoschema gallaesolidaginis for over 20 years, and I still don’t know if I’m pronouncing it correctly. But other Latin names roll wonderfully off the tongue: the clove tree Syzygium and the hoopoe Upupa epops, for example.
Few roll as wonderfully off the tongue as Salacca zalacca, though. 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
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: 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