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Re: You just have to browse this!

Posted by TheFallen on March 13, 2003

In Reply to: Re: Dictionary of biological names - Pratchett Postscript posted by TheFallen on March 13, 2003

: : : : : Example Corvus brachyrhynchos is a crow or ravin. "brachy.." apparently means feather. How would you go about searching for the meaning of "..rhychos" or other scientific names?

: : : : I'm pretty certain 'brachy' means 'short', not to be confused with 'brachi' which means 'to do with the upper limb'. One is Greek and the other La*in - all very confusing.
: : : : I suggest a large technical dictionary as a good start for a search. Others may have better ideas and/or even correct my La*in and Gr**k - I only got 8% for the former at the end of my 4th year at Grammar school - that's a UK one, not a US one!

: : : I couldn't find a comprehensive list online. One source advised looking for a "dictionary of biological names in your local library (Dewey 574.03)."

: : James is right. It's brachy (as in short) and rhynchos as in nose/snout/beak. So, the short-beaked crow.

: : However don't necessarily expect any rhyme or reason when it comes to scientific naming of species. For example "corvus" is definitively L*tin, whereas the rest is undoubtedly Gr**k.

: Of course, the honour of naming a previously undiscovered species goes to its discoverer, which can further muddy the waters. For example, in 1995, a New Zealand archaeologist named Köhler discovered a very large species of turtle that had been extinct for 42 million years. Being an avid reader of the Discworld books that feature an imaginary world carried through space on the back of a galactic turtle, he decided to name this discovery psephophorus terrypratchetti, after the author.

: In digging up the exact name of the fossil turtle, I've just come across this excellent website - linked to below - that lists oddities in the official scientific names of various species. It's well worth a look. I particularly like the following:

: Campsicnemius charliechaplini Evenhuis, 1996 (dolichopodid fly) "Etymology: This species is named in honor of the great silent movie comedian, Charlie Chaplin, because of the curious tendency of this fly to die with its midlegs in a bandy-legged position."

: Mastagophora dizzydeani Eberhard, 1984 (spider) Named after a baseball player. The spider uses a sticky ball on the end of a thread to catch its prey.

: And much kudos to Messrs. Adrian and Edgecombe, who seem to be ever so good at discovering related families of fossil trilobytes, for giving the scientific world both of the following:

: Mackenziurus johnnyi, M. joeyi, M. deedeei, M. ceejayi (trilobites) Named after the Ramones.

: Arcticalymene viciousi, A. rotteni, A. jonesi, A. cooki, A. matlocki (trilobites) Named after the Sex Pistols.

I'm now completely immersed in this species classification website - it's a sheer joy, up to date, factual and very very funny. Better yet, it has referenced links to pages from learned mailing groups of archaeologists working themselves up into furies over imagined slights in the naming of dinosaurs, a link to the Darwin Awards description of the near-death experience of the scientist who knew there was some small yet highly venomous creature in the sea, and so sat on the sea-bed in a weighted diving suit until one stung him (it turned out to be a small undiscovered jellyfish that then got named after him, a further link to the true story of the Italian marine biologist who named another jellyfish after Frank Zappa, after which Zappa performed a special "jellyfish-ized" version of a song at his last live gig. The riches therein are far too many to mention. To entice you further, I offer this example:

Indri indri (indri, a large lemur) The name "indri" comes from a Malagasy exclamation meaning "Look!" French naturalist Pierre Sonnerat mistakenly took this to be the animal's name.

Go visit. You will not regret it!