Taxonomy humor

Last year I did a short post on “Great species names,” showing that scientists have a sense of humor when assigning Latin binomials to new species.  This is one of the few chances scientists get to actually inject humor into the published literature, and it’s a permanent form of humor, raising a chuckle each time the species’ name comes up.  I’ve already highlighted such species names as Abra cadabra, Pieza cake, and Ytu brutus.  (I’ve always wanted to name a species Mutatis mutandis.)

Three days ago BuzzFeed posted a longer list of 17 humorous species names—and their pictures are included (many of them aren’t the animal named, though). Here are a few of my favorites, with BuzzFeed‘s descriptions. I’ve provided some links to the literature or species descriptions.

Ytu brutus is a Brazilian water beetle. The name derives from what is popularly attributed as Julius Caesar’s last words (see Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as an example): “Et tu, Brute?” Literally, this translates as “And you, Brutus?” In Spanish “Y tu” means “and you.” Hence, Ytu brutus.

Better known as the Conquered Lorikeet, Vini vidivici was a South Pacific parrot that went extinct roughly 700-1300 years ago. The name derives from the phrase “veni, vidi, vici,” which means “I came, I saw, I conquered.”


Reissa roni is another type of mythicomyiid fly. OK, I give in: that term means they’re flies that resemble bees. Bee flies, as it were. And I guess the guys who name bee flies really like puns and Rice-A-Roni. It is the San Francisco Treat, after all.

Heerz lukenatcha is a type of wasp endemic to regions of Central and South America. I hope they locate a subspecies and name it Heerz lukenatcha kidd. Also see (and laugh at) Heerz tooya.

There are others, but the pictures they show aren’t accurate (indeed; I’m not sure a few of the ones above).

You can find a ton of weird species names (including rude ones) here.  And another list is here; put your favorites below.

A few of mine:

Gammaracanthuskytodermogammarus loricatobaicalensis.  An amphipod from Lake Baikal

Dinohyus hollandi Peterson (Miocene entelodont) Named after Carnegie Museum director W. J. Holland, who insisted that he be listed as senior author on every paper written by his staff. The name means “Holland’s terrible pig.” A Pittsburgh paper announced the discovery with the front-page headline, “Dinohyus hollandi, The World’s Biggest Hog!.”

Strategus longichomperus Ratcliffe (Honduran scarab) with long mandibles

Abracadabrella birdsville (Salticidae- jumping spider)

Ba humbugi Solem 1983. Endodontoid snail from Mba island, Fiji.


31 Comments

  1. J
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    I think my favourite has to be the Eubetia bigaulae, just because it’s one of the ones that only stands out as odd when you read it aloud!

  2. Posted April 12, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    If you want to discover and name a new species, they say become a botanist -

    http://scienceline.org/2012/04/want-to-discover-a-new-species-become-a-botanist/

    By the way, surely Caesar spoke his last words in Greek? Yes, pedantic, I know (and I do not speak Greek)…
    καὶ σύ, τέκνον – you too my son

    • bonetired
      Posted April 12, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      You sure?

      I thought his last words were “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!”

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted April 12, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

        +1

      • Posted April 12, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        Stop messing about!

        /@

      • Ken Camargo
        Posted April 13, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

        I thought his last words were “aaaargh”, but I might be confusing it with something else.

  3. Justicar
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    I happen to love:
    Verae peculya, and the two sister species: Trombicula doremi, and T. fasola.

  4. Diego
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    And sometimes the name itself is not humorous, but can still be put to (mildly) amusing effect. In one lab I worked in we were talking about how a guest speaker was coming from U of Tennessee. Someone mentioned their mascot was the Volunteer (“vols”). And a wag instantly said “ah, Microtus!”. Weak tea to be sure, but we all laughed.

  5. procrastin8or
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Geek jokes, gotta love them :)

  6. Liz Naples
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    “… which, at 50 letters may be the longest scientific name ever proposed. The Dybowski names were later invalidated by the ICZN.”

    Can anyone please explain what would cause an invalidation of a name?

    I’m partial to Ninjemys oweni because it makes perfect sense, now that I’ve seen the photo of the turtle head. Also Ittibittium for the “smaller molluscs” is cute.

    I like the discoverer’s name being attached, but I don’t like the terribly contrived ones that don’t make a lot of sense. The Gelae Baen one can pass, because the bug kind of looks like a jelly bean, but Gelae Donut et al are a stretch. So are the Pieza kake, etc.

    Maybe taxonomists run dry sometimes. Any called Thingamajig or Whachamacallit?

  7. Stonyground
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    There is a blood-sucking louse named after the cartoonist Gary Larson.

  8. JTrentadue
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I love Pseudobiceros hancockanus because the word “hancockanus” makes me chuckle.

  9. Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    The biggest reason for all this is not that taxonomists have highly-developed senses of humor. It is just that there are no many darned species and desperation leads to frivolity.

  10. Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Oops, I meant to type are so many darned species

  11. Posted April 12, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    We have much to live up to when deciding what to name this new frog…

    • Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      I suppose Jeremia(h) piscator has already been taken?

      /@

  12. Posted April 12, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    My entomology professor told us about two entomologists who had quite a feud during their careers. One had a name that sounded like Sweaty (but I’m sure it was spelled differently), and his rival wanted to name a beetle in his “honour”, with the nomenclature of Sweaty anus (I’m sure ‘anus’ would have been spelled differently but phonetically correct).

    Apparently it didn’t pass the naming process, and my professor gave a grandiose finale that they took their differences to the grave.

    One of the stories I remember with a laugh from my undergrad years.

  13. andreschuiteman
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    While I have named and even discovered quite a few new (orchid) species, I have always refrained from making up humorous epithets. Funny names are like jokes that are retold too often: they quickly become tedious and embarrassing. Perhaps an exception can be made for organisms that are so obscure that their names will probably never be used beyond the article in which they were first described.

    That said, Ed de Vogel and I did name a Borneo orchid Coelogyne yiii, after a Mr. Yii. We did not invent the genus name Coelogyne, which literally means ‘hollow female’. It would take too long to explain that one here, but you can rest assured that it was not a sign of misogyny on the part of John Lindley, who came up with it.

    • andreschuiteman
      Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      This is what Coelogyne yiii looks like.

      • Liz Naples
        Posted April 12, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

        Congratulations. It’s exquisite!

    • Posted April 13, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      A famous orchid taxonomist, Cal Dodson, once named a new genus “Dressleria” after orchid scientist Bob Dressler, because (according to Cal) the flowers smelled exactly like Dressler’s famously stinky socks.

      • andreschuiteman
        Posted April 13, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        I’ll check next time I come across a flowering Dressleria.

  14. MadScientist
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    I guess the “vini” in the parrot’s name comes from the purple plumage.

  15. JoeB
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    My favorite scientific name is not a joke, but it does have twelve syllables; I wonder how many have more.
    Osteomeles anthyllidifolia; it rolls off the tongue quite nicely. It is an attractive plant in the Rosaceae that we see on every hike in Hawaii uplands. It’s Hawaiian name is ‘Ulei, (there is a macron, or “long mark” over the U), short and sweet, but still three syllables.

  16. Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    Ginkgoites nannyoggiae: a type of gingko from the Mezozoïc, named after Terry Pratchett’s character Nanny Ogg…

  17. Ken Camargo
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Just a sidenote: despite the “Y tu” being correctly identified as Spanish, here in Brazil we speak Portuguese. Just to help dispell a common misconception.

  18. Posted April 13, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Ytu Brutus
    Having a background in art, literature & Cinema — I Enjoyed reading this.
    Cheers
    Nuwan Sen

  19. Posted April 15, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    They forgot Candidatus Midichloria mitochondrii (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17082386)!

  20. Posted August 6, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic blog you have here but I was curious if you knew of
    any message boards that cover the same topics discussed here?
    I’d really love to be a part of online community where I can get advice from other experienced individuals that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Thank you!

  21. Ent
    Posted June 12, 2013 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t get the “Heerz lukenatcha” one… puns are pains for non-native speakers. Could anyone explain it to me?

    • Posted January 11, 2014 at 1:12 am | Permalink

      “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid!”

      Like, Panicum maximum, though it’s a plant.


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