Taxonomy. You’re already falling asleep aren’t you? It’s useful to biologists but not everyone is that interested in memorising long Latin names. Fortunately taxonomy can be funny, silly, creative, and a bit daft.
Biologists give species binomial names where the first word is the genus the species belongs to and the second is the species name. We are Homo sapiens because we are the sapiens species that belongs in the Homo genus along with Homo neaderthalensis, Homo erectus, and Homo floresiensis (a species we wrote about recently). Here are some of our favourite scientific names for living things.
This endangered snail species is found in forests of Viti Levu, Fiji. It was named by Solem in 1983 after Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Stephen Colbert actually has a spider named after him: Aptostichus stephencolberti.
This species isn’t actually a sponge, but a fungus of the Boletaceae family. The spongelike bodies of the species inspired the discovers to name it after everyone’s favourite pineapple-dwelling creature under the sea.
Evenhuis’ terrible puns
A biologist named Evenhuis had a brilliant/awful track record of using scientific classification to create puns. His best work was the classification of several flies in 2002 under the Pieza genus including Pieza rhea and Pieza pi. For Evenhuis, you could say naming species was a Pieza kake. We’re not sorry. Scientists love pizza.
The Heerz genus
Evenhuis isn’t alone when it comes to using scientific classification for puns. A worthy nod goes to Marsh who in 1993 named some flies Heerz lukenatcha and Heerz tooya. Bravo, Marsh! Here’s to you!
Arnold Menke named a wasp Aha ha in 1977 after receiving a package of insect specimens and saying “aha!” out loud. He liked the name so much he even used it on his car’s registration plate. We read it as a laugh though.
The Agra genus
Agra is a huge genus of beetles known as elegant canopy beetles. One scientist, Terry Erwin, has named almost half of the 500 described species and has used this opportunity to be as creative as possible. Highlights from the genus include Agra vation, Agra phobia, and Agra cadabra.
Erwin also used the opportunity to do what many biologists do when naming species: honouring celebrities. There’s a beetle in this genus named Agra schwarzeneggeri that’s bound to make Arnie smile.
The Agathidium genus
The Agathidium genus of slime-mold beetles has some interestingly named species thanks to Kelly Miller and Quentin Wheeler. They chose to name the beetles with a common theme. I wonder if you can recognise a pattern? The species include Agathidium bushi for the former US President; Agathidium cheneyi for the former US Vice President; and Agathidium rumsfeld for the former US Secretary of Defense and games developer.
Bush. Cheney. Rumsfeld. Do you see a recurring theme? If so it might not surprise you to know that the fourth beetle was named Agathidium vaderi after Darth Vader, former Supreme Commander of the Imperial Forces.
The sci-fi references in scientific classification don’t stop with Agathidium vaderi. Star Wars features prominently in taxonomy with an entire beetle genus of mites named Darthvaderum and a wasp named Polemistus chewbacca. The real hoopy froods out there will be happy to know that there’s a fish named Bidenichthys beeblebroxi and a fungus moth named Erechthias beeblebroxi after the Ex-Galactic President from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. There’s even a fossil fish called Fiordichthys slartibartfasti. Get it? Fjords? You massive nerds.
Some of our favourite names for celebs include Aptostichus angelinajolieae for Angelina Jolie; Preseucoila imallshookupis for Elvis Presley; and Scaptia beyonce for Beyoncé. Works of art have been appreciated too including our favourites Apopyllus now and Draculoides bramstokeri.
Taxonomy is a human endeavour. For better or worse, this means there’s plenty of scope for creativity and silliness. Scientific classification doesn’t have to be boring.
Main image © iStock/imv