What’s in a Name, Pt 2.

Last time we discussed the process of naming biological organisms following Carl Linnaeus’s binomial nomenclatural system, i.e. each named critter has two parts to its name, a genus and a specific epithet. These names, by international agreement use Latin or Greek endings, so as an example of an odd species name, I mentioned “Cartwrightia cartwrighti Cartwright, 1967,” where:
1) the genus, Cartwrightia was created in 1958 to honor Oscar Cartwright who, in 1967,
2) named a new species in in that genus, cartwrighti, to honor his brother, Raymond, and, since the Oscar named the species,
3) his name as author follows the species name, so we get yet another “Cartwright.”

But there are odder names! And, before I go any further, if you have any interest in this, please see the writings of Stephen B. Heard: His book, Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider is a delight. I learned of it from his highly entertaining and informative blog, Scientist Sees Squirrel.

Now, I confess that for most of my entomological career, I was a die-hard, stick-in-the-mud traditionalist who believed and espoused the notion that scientific names should be descriptive, e.g. Homo sapiens Linnaeus 1758. or Latrodectus mactans (Fabricius, 1775). The etymology of the former was discussed in my previous posting; the latter is interesting because the Greek Latrodectus can mean “secretly biting” and the Latin mactans can mean “slaughtering or killing.”

Oh, yeah–lest I forget–L. mactans is the spider commonly called a black widow.

Adult female Latrodectus mactans feeding on an American cockroach, Periplaneta americana Linnaeus, 1758

I grudgingly accepted naming species for scientists, such as Messrs. Cartwright, above, and even places; e.g. the defunct cockroach pictured above is in the genus Periplaneta, the Greek roots of which can mean “all around wanderer.” The species is P. americana: not too hard to figure that one out.

But I drew the line at non-scientists or even–perish the thought–fictional characters. Until, that is, my favorite cartoonist of all time was honored by having a chewing louse*👇, Strigiphilus**👇 garylarsoni Clayton, 1990 so-named in recognition of Larson’s “…enormous contribution…made to biology through [his] cartoons.”

Cool, right?

And then I saw this spider:

Eriovixia gryffindori Ahmed et al., 2016
(Its head is downhill, to the left)

This, friends, is Eriovixia gryffindori Ahmed, Khalap & Sumukha, 2016. It’s colloquially called the “Sorting Hat spider.” Definitely fictitious, right? But what a perfect name!

BTW, it could be a bit difficult to see this spider on dry leaves:

So not only have I come to accept fanciful names, I now embrace them. They stir my curiosity, and have led to many delightful hours of researching names and animals to which I would otherwise have paid no attention!

In closing, I give you the longest proposed scientific name, a bacterium eponymously named for the famed town***👇 in Wales, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch: Myxococcus llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis Chambers et al., 2020 (the “ensis” on the end indicating that it is named for that town).

Next time–the dread “common name”!

*👆 Chewing lice are commonly called “bird lice,” and this species is only found on owls.
**👆 Strigiphilus can be loosely translated as “bristle-lover.”
***👆Google Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (without the “ensis”).

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.