Taxonomy humor

April 12, 2012 • 8:24 am

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 thoughts on “Taxonomy humor

  1. 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. 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.

  3. “… 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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

    1. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

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

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