So a friend of mine has exposed me to the television show called “Doctor Who.” Most people have heard of it; it is very popular and has been running for some ridiculous amount of time (i.e. fifty years).
“It is a silly show and you are a bit silly yourself,” my friend said, “I think you will enjoy it. However,” he added, knowing I am a scientist, “You must suspend disbelief or you will not appreciate it.”
He knows I have trouble with the suspension of disbelief…for example, my experience of Indiana Jones (who should be one of my favourite heroes, as he is a swashbuckler), was totally ruined when in the dungeons beneath India he was accosted by thousands of Australian Walking Sticks and Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches (two of the friendliest and mildest insect pets you can buy).
“Why would they be in India?!” fourteen-year-old me shouted to my father, “And why would they be in such high densities in a dungeon?!” My father just sighed and shook his head.
And then there is the horrible travesty of the Red-tailed Hawk/Bald Eagle mix-up. You see, the Bald Eagle does not have a very inspiring cry (it sounds rather like a chicken to me), so people often substitute the awe-inspiring KRREEEAAAWWW of the Red-tailed Hawk. It is common for me to protest this sort of thing, “Where is the Red-tail?! All I see is a Bald Eagle; why do I hear a Red-tail!?”
So you can understand my friend’s reticence to expose me to a television show with an admittedly silly premise.
I can stomach the time travel, the sonic screwdriver (which works on everything but wood, what.), and the notion that most aliens look and act very human (it is much easier to cast actors that way). But I had a huge problem the other night when I was introduced to “Homo reptilia”.
I sketched one for you, as a visual reference.
Homo reptilia is the name of the race of lizard-people sleeping in the Earth. (They are also known as Silurians, which doesn’t make sense either, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)
As a taxonomist, I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute…These are lizard people (i.e. reptiles), and yet they share a GENUS with humans?!?!”
My friend sighed melodramatically and rolled his eyes, “Here we go.”
“No, listen, this is unacceptable. Reptiles are in a different CLASS. This is a complete abuse of Latin binomials. If we want a common ancestor with the reptiles, we have to go all the way back to Amniota.”
Let me draw you a cladogram, dear reader(s).
Here is where Amniota branches off from other chordates (cladogram made on tolweb.org)
Amniota includes both reptiles and mammals. But that is as similar as we get, because within the Amniota…
We are in the Synapsid branch
The name itself suggests that these lizard people are in the Reptilia (and probably the Diapsida), whereas mammals (including us) are in the Synapsida.
So no, no, no. You are not allowed to lump animals from different classes into the same genus. I will smite you with taxonomy.
They are also called Silurians, which is increasingly confusing, since the Silurian epoch was around 440 million years ago, long, long before the evolution of terrestrial animals, much less the reptiles. I mean, the Silurian epoch was notable for the appearance of the Osteichthyes, a branch which includes the first bony fishes.
You may argue that it is also a branch which we share with the reptiles, but you know, that would be like saying we are all essentially just bony fish. (I wouldn’t argue with you because technically you’d be right…)