Following up on my original post on amusing or apt scientific names, I came across a few more.
In the dirty puns category:
- The tree Sterculia urens, whose genus name comes from Sterculius, the Roman god of manure, because the flowers stink. “Urens” means “burning” and probably refers to the colour…but it does have an English homophone that makes the whole name a bit rude!
- I mentioned Turdus (the thrushes) in part I. Further research revealed that one species is Turdus assimilis. ‘Nuff said.
A new category: misnomers and ironies:
- Balaenoptera musculus, the blue whale. Named by Linnaeus himself, who almost certainly was aware that “musculus” means both “muscular” and “little mouse”.
- The fox squirrel, Sciurus niger. The black morph of this species is pretty rare (unlike the ubiquitous-in-eastern-Canada grey squirrel, whose black morph is quite common). Linnaeus just happened to receive a black-furred specimen first, hence the inappropriate name.
- Sterculia gives its name to the family Sterculiaceae. Also in this family is the cacao plant from which chocolate is derived. Its genus name, Theobroma, means “drink of the gods”. In the manure-y family.
- One that I’m still not sure about (insight, anyone?): the American goldfinch, Carduelis tristis. The genus name falls into the “delightfully apt” category, as “carduelis” is derived from “carduus” (thistle, whose seeds are a favourite food). However,”tristis” means “sad”…and we’re talking about a bright yellow bird with a rather perky little call! I think, but have very little evidence for it, that the association with thistles makes goldfinches symbolic of the crown of thorns worn by Jesus before the crucifiction, hence “tristis”…but that’s got to be one of the most far-fetched name etymologies I’ve ever heard.
In both the misnomer and the gratuitous classical references categories:
- The slugs in the genus Arion. They’re named after a semi-legendary Greek poet who turned into/was rescued by a dolphin. One of these delightful beasties (slugs, not dolphins) has been introduced to the West Coast; it’s called Arion ater (ater=black) which is totally what I’m going to call my death metal band when I drop out of grad school to become a rock star.