Great species names

June 27, 2011 • 7:53 am

Matthew Cobb found this tortricid moth online at Null Hypothesis, a treasure trove of science arcana and humor.  The beast is pretty unimpressive, no?

But there’s one cool thing about it: its name:  Eubetia bigaulae.  It’s pronounced “You betcha, by golly,” and was named by John Brown, an entomologist at the Smithsonian.

I always thought that scientists should use more imagination when naming species; it’s one of the rare bits of humor that can worm its way into the scientific literature.  I’ve wished, for example that I could discover a species in a new genus that I could name Mutatis mutandis.

But Null Hypothesis also has a long list of funny but genuine species names, which include these, with the link to the details.

Know any other good ones?

49 thoughts on “Great species names

  1. Speaking of funny names, isn’t that ‘tortridic’ moth in the opening sentence really a ‘tortricid’ moth?

  2. Not species but the hedgehog genes are named after different varieties of actual hedgehogs, e.g., Indian, desert, etc. One hedgehog gene, the one involved in limb bud axis determination is named Sonic hedgehog after the video game character.

    1. As someone once pointed out, these cute names for genes are funny until one turns out to play a role in causing cancer. Imagine the doctor explaining to the distraught patient and family that he has a mutation in the Mickey Mouse gene.

      1. Oh, for the love of … science. Rename it for the purpose.

        How about “a gene in the Disney complex”? =D

    2. Geneticists are such wags!
      It seems that the loooongest name is this amphipod (you may have seen amphipods hopping around on a beach)-

      Gammaracanthuskytodermogammarus loricatobaicalensis, Dybowski, 1926

  3. Dracorex hogwartsia (“dragon king of Hogwarts”). It comes from letting kids help name a new fossil. It’s a bit silly, but hopefully it helps get them interested in science.

  4. Don’t forget the “scientific names” that appeared in the Chuck Jones cartoons identifying the Coyote (carnicorous vulgaris) and Roadrunner (aceleratii incredibilis).

    1. I thought Coyote was “Eatibus Anythingus” and Roadrunner was “Hotrodicus Supersonicus”. Or were these their “Roman” names?

      1. The “scientific” names changed from film to film. The ones I mentioned were used in the first three Coyote & Roadrunner cartoons; after that, it varied. One of my favorites for the bird is “speedipus rex”. The two you mentioned were from 1954’s “Stop! Look! And Hasten!”. Altogether, there were about 29 different names used across 33 cartoons. It’s interesting to note that in a 2003 post-Jones short, “The Whizzard of Ow”, the real Latin names (Geococcyx californianus & Canis latrans) were used. There’s a table with a list of the cartoons and the particulars at

  5. Heard on the BBC last Friday night about a fungus named Spongiform squarepantsii. Here’s a little about it:

    SpongeBob SquarePants apparently lives not under the sea but under a tree in a rainforest according to researchers.

    They are referring to a new species of bright orange mushroom shaped like the famous cartoon character. Spongiform squarepantsii was found in the island of Borneo in 2010 and featured in May’s issue of the journal Mycologia.

    Marine biologist and animator Stephen Hillenburg created the character of SpongeBob Squarepants who dwells in the undersea city of “Bikini Bottom.” The character and many others in the hit animated series is based on Hillenburg’s research of anthromorphic forms of ocean life.

    The newly-discovered mushroom meanwhile resembles its underwater namesake under a scanning electron microscope. It is shaped just like a sponge with a spore-producing area that looks like a seafloor filled in tube sponges unlike the common cap-and-stem forms of many other fungi.

  6. I liked this a lot. I am currently exploring plants and flowers and trees. I learned the value of learning the Latin names and so this is great. Carolus Linnaeus was a great man. Thanks

  7. My favorites are the Phallus impudicus (common stinkhorn), a mushroom that looks like an “impudent” penis; and the Clitoria mariana (Atlantic pigeonwings pea) named for the favorite body part of one of Linneus’ mistresses.

    1. Indeed, the Clitoria sp flowers are amazing, and the plant is also in the news of late as a prominent source of cyclotides, some marvelous ~40aa cyclic peptides that are used in insect defense strategies and are another wonderful story in evolution. They’re found in many plants & are ribosomally-synthesized. They cyclize (so no N-terminus remains) with help of a thiol protease. Six cysteine residues plus one glutamate are strictly conserved. All other positions are free to change, and there are many (I think into the 100’s) in a given plant (except for the cyclization, reminiscent of cone snail toxins). Key author is Craik. They’ve also attracted biotech interest as drug delivery platforms.

  8. I always found the german name of Utricularia vulgaris rather amusing, namely “Gewöhnlicher Wasserschlauch”, which one would naively translate with “ordinary garden hose”.

  9. I have a memory of reading an article about this, and one of the ones mentioned was Ptheria relativitae, but a google search on this name has been unfruitful.

  10. Corydoras narcissus Nijssen & Isbrücker, 1980

    In 1976 a group of collectors (H. R. Axelrod, H. Bleher, G. van den Bossche, J. Gery and A. Schwartz) captured a number of then undescribed catfishes. A sample of these fish were sent to Nijssen & Isbrücker apparently with at least a strong request to name them after one of the aforementioned collectors. In 1980 they were described as C. narcissus and within that paper read “Etymology – Corydoras narcissus is named after Narcissus, son of the Greek river god Kephissus, in honour or those who recently collected undescribed Corydoras species, and kindly suggested new names for them.”

  11. Aha ha, a parasitic wasp, by Arnold Menke (I think), though once amusing combinations become meaningless when genera are sunk. I’ve found some groups of taxonomists have more humor about their names than others, e.g. entomologists. Botanists tend to prefer descriptive names or names after people. While amused by the fun people have, I like the descriptive or geographic names the best as they help me remember something about the organism, and not the author or their friends and family.

  12. It’s juvenile, but every time I hear Turdus migratorius I think of a flying piece of poo instead of the American Robin.

    Also I’ve been trying to talk Tom Near into naming a new darter species Percina nongrata, but I don’t think he’s going to.

  13. Given the Greek bous – ox, and geranos – crane, the official explanation of the name of the genus of wattled crane Bugeranus is that it is named for its sonorous calls.

    I am unconvinced.

  14. I think it was in one of Stephen Jay Gould’s books where he mentioned a genus of snails called Ba, with one of the species named Ba humbugi.

    Or it might have been Steve Jones.

  15. How about an dinosaur discovered soem years ago in Austrlia thta was named Atlascopcosaurus – after the digging equipmnet used to excavate it.

  16. We considered naming the endangered Barton Springs salamander, from beautiful Barton Springs in downtown Austin, as Eurycea coli. Not really funny in itself, but it would make for interesting headlines: “Scientists concerned about low numbers of E. coli in Barton Springs” or “As water quality improves, E. coli numbers expected to rise”. We thought the better of it, though.

    By the way, the great names Oedipus complex (mentioned in Jerry’s BLOG post) and Oedipus rex were eliminated through a fit of scientific jealousy. Edward Taylor hated the author of these names, Emmett R. Dunn, because Dunn had correctly pointed out to Taylor that his reported (at a scientific meeting) “neotenic” tadpole was actually just an oophagic tadpole (that is, Taylor had confused the reproductive and digestive systems, as Dunn dryly noted). In likely retaliation for this public embarrassment, Taylor searched the literature, and found that the name Oedipus had briefly been used as a generic name for a mollusk many years before, and so Taylor sunk the name as a senior homonym. Terrible crime against two great names.

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