Monday, October 26, 2009

The Naming of Things

A few things on naming caught my attention recently.

First there was this article (from the NYTimes, of course) which is on taxonomy in general and on native taxonomies in particular. How good are you at distinguishing between bird names and fish names in on naming birds and fish in the Huambisa language?

Then I came across this linked from a faculty member's website: Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature. There's a lot to discover here. From the "Interesting Translations" section, I can't help giggling at Eucritta melanolimnetes (a fossil amphibian), which translates to "creature from the black lagoon", and at Vampyroteuthis infernalis, a squid relative, aka "the vampire squid from hell."
The Creature from the Black Lagoon... is actually sort of cute.
Vampire squid from hell... yeesh. Way to live up to your name!

My favorite section, of course, is the puns. Here's one of the best bits on the whole site:
Balaenoptera musculus Linneaus (blue whale) Musculus could mean "muscular," but it can also be interpreted as "little mouse." Linne would have known this and, given his sense of humor, may have intended the ironic double meaning.
That Linne... what a wacky guy!

Finally, I was reading about native plants the other day... if I told you you had Ambrosia and Lotus growing all over your yard, you'd probably think that was great, right?

Not if you have allergies. Ambrosia is the genus name for ragweed (the name has to do with the immortality of the species). Lotus is a little better -- it's a genus of plants known as deervetches, but certainly desn't look anything like what most people think of as a lotus.