News flash (well, almost a week late due to lack of computer) about one of the examples I gave on my earlier post about cool scientific names: the “raptorial” sperm whale Leviathan melvillei has been renamed! According to a corrigendum in Nature*, where the whale was originally descibed, the genus name Leviathan has already been taken: it’s a junior synonym (meaning originally it was described as a new genus, but later placed in a different, already named genus) of Mammut, the mastodon genus. The authors of the whale description have renamed their find Livyatan melvillei, livyatan being the Hebrew word for sea monster from which, I presume, leviathan is derived.
Why can’t they reuse Leviathan if it’s only a junior synonym (i.e. not a valid genus name)? There’s always the chance that a species originally placed in Leviathan, but now in Mammut, could be reclassified into a new genus. And in this case, barring other, older published names, Leviathan would take precedence in naming that new genus. (I’m kind of crossing my fingers that this happens–it’s a shame that we’re not using such an awesome name!)
*Sorry, that link probably requires a subscription.