I’m not the only silly taxonomist out there. In fact, throughout the history of biological nomenclature, there have been taxonomists who, with a twinkle in their eye and a glance over their shoulder, have introduced a bit of silliness into the binomial classification of species.
I love reading the results of their mischief, and I thought I would share some of my favourite examples with you today. These are examples that I get from the website “Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature.” If you enjoy my examples, you might want to check it out!
Abra cadabra (Eames & Wilkins) 1957 (clam) Now, alas, in the genus Theora.
Aquilegia (columbine) Aquilegia derives from aquila, Latin for “eagle”, because the shape of the flower petals resembles an eagle’s claw. The common name “columbine”, on the other hand, derives from columba, Latin for “pigeon”, because those same petals were fancied to resemble five pigeons. Thus the same flower is named after eagle and dove simultaneously.
Ba humbugi Solem, 1983 (endodontoid snail) from Mba island, Fiji.
Brontomerus Taylor, Wedel and Cifelli, 2011 (early Cretaceous sauropod) name means “thunder thigh”; its fossils were fragmentary but showed that the dinosaur had powerful legs.
Coelopleurus exquisitus Coppard & Schultz, 2006 (sea urchin) This species first came to notice after being listed for auction on eBay. Marine biologist Simon Coppard was directed to the site, did not recognize the species, and investigated further. Immediately after publication of the description [Zootaxa 7], the value of specimens on eBay jumped from $8 to $138.
Dinohyus hollandi Peterson (Miocene entelodont) Named after Carnegie Museum director W. J. Holland, who insisted that he be listed as senior author on every paper written by his staff. The name means “Holland’s terrible pig.” A Pittsburgh paper announced the discovery with the front-page headline, “Dinohyus hollandi, The World’s Biggest Hog!.”
Eubetia bigaulae Brown (tortricid moth) pronounced “youbetcha bygolly”.
Halticosaurus von Huene 1908 (Late Triassic theropod) translates to “leaping lizard!”
“I don’t understand.” It is widely held that French naturalist Pierre Sonnerat mistakenly took the Malagasy exclamation “look there” (or words to that effect) for the common name of the indri (a lemur), but Nick Garbutt in “Mammals of Madagascar” (1999) gives “endrina” as one of the species’ native names, and he should probably know. Also it has been related that the aye-aye (another Madagascan lemur) was given its name by Sonnerat after he mistook the surprised cries of the villagers for the animal’s name, but this is not generally accepted. In a similar vein, the word kangaroo is ubiquitously stated as meaning “I don’t understand” (in reply to Captain Cook’s “what do you call that?” query about the creature) or as a garbled repitition of the first part of the question (“can you tell me…?”), but in 1901 a Dr. W.E. Roth claimed that the native name around Cookstown, Queensland, was ganguru. With all three of these its probably a case of believe what you want to believe!
Ittibittium Houbrick, 1993 (mollusc) These are smaller than molluscs of the genus Bittium.
Kryoryctes cadburyi 2005 (Cretaceous mammal) Tim Rich, leading a dinosaur dig at Dinosaur Cove, Australia, offered a reward of a kilo of chocolate for a particularly good fossil. (The other food on the expedition was terrible.) But evidence of mammals among dinosaurs in Australia is even rarer. Asked what finding a mammal fossil would merit, Tim answered a cubic meter of chocolate. One of the undescribed bones from that dig, when eventually examined closely, turned out to be from a mammal. Tim was dismayed by the price of a ton of chocolate, but the local Cadbury factory offered to make good on the bet. Since the individual who discovered the bone was by then unknown, the whole team was invited. Making chocolate in a cubic meter piece is impossible, but Cadbury made a cubic meter of cocoa butter and then let the people loose in a room full of chocolate bars. (Kryoryctes means “cold digger”, referring to the polar latitude where the creature died 104 million years ago, and the fact that the animal was adapted for digging.)
Notnops, Taintnops, Tisentnops Platnick, 1994 (caponiid spiders) These Chilean spiders were originally placed in the genus Nops, but Platnick separated them into these new genera when he reexamined them.
Ohmyia omya Thompson, 1999 (syrphid fly)
Pieza kake Evenhuis, 2002 (mythicomyiid fly)
Pieza pi Evenhuis, 2002 (mythicomyiid fly)
Pieza rhea Evenhuis, 2002 (mythicomyiid fly)
Piseinotecus divae Er. Marcus, 1955 (gastropod) “Piseinotecus” means “I stepped on Teco.” Teco was a dog belonging to a diva (or to Prof. Diva Corrêa). One of the Marcuses (Evelyne or Ernst) stepped on the dog on the way to the kitchen in the middle of the night.
Pulchrapollia Dyke & Cooper, 2000 (Lower Eocene parrot) Translates to “Pretty Polly”.
Rosa ‘Whitfield’ (rose cultivar) Comedy actress June Whitfield commented, “There is a rose named after me. The catalogue describes it as ‘superb for bedding, best up against a wall.”
Shillingsworthia shillingsworthi Girault 1920 (mymarid wasp). Lambasting J. F. Illingsworth, Girault described this wasp as a creature with no head, thorax, abdomen, legs, antennae, or wings (i.e., nonexistent), “blank, vacant, inaneness perfect. . . . Visible only from certain points of view. Shadowless. An airy species whose flight cannot be followed except by the winged mind. . . . This so thin genus is consecrated to Doctor Johann Francis Illingworth, in these days remarkable for his selfless devotion to Entomology, not only sacrificing all of the comforts of life, but as well as his health and reputation to the uncompromising search for truth.”
Verae peculya Marsh, 1993 (braconid)
Zyzzyxdonta Solem, 1976 (endodontoid snail) with characters the extreme opposite of Aaadonta.