Hook Nose, Wise Man, Sentinel Butcher: What’s in a name?

By Natalie Sopinka

Last year hybrids of the Northern (Glaucomys sabrinus) and Southern (Glaucomys volans) flying squirrel were making headlines (see Southern flying squirrels land in Canada). Should the mixed offspring combine the two species’ names (Glaucomys vobrinus) or be given a new name (Glaucomys canamus) that captures both the Canadian and American origins of the squirrel? The debate didn’t go far as the hybrids do not exclusively mate with each other and so are not technically a new species. Still, what’s in a name?

Carl Linnaeus is the father of binomial nomenclature whereby organisms are named by genus and species. Most genus and species names are derived from Latin or Greek and often describe the organism’s appearance or location of origin. Some names are straightforward, others more creative and clever.

Lanius excubitor or sentinel butcher describes the watchful behaviour of the Northern Grey Shrike, as well as its caching strategy of skewering dead animals to thorns.

Photo by: Bruce DiLabio

Immature Northern Shrike. Photo by: Bruce DiLabio

A spongy looking mushroom named Spongiforma squarepantsii.

Photo by: Tom Bruns, UC Berkeley

Photo by: Tom Bruns

The frog prince: Hyloscirtus princecharlesi is named after Prince Charles, an advocate for animal conservation.

Photo by: Luis Coloma

Photo by: Luis Coloma

Pacific salmon, Oncorhynchus spp., are named for their menacing jaws (in Greek, onkos = hook and rynchos = nose).

Photo by: Nick Hall

Sockeye salmon. Photo by: Nick Hall

“I am green!” declare all Vireo species in Latin.

Red-eyed Vireo. Photo by: Mike Leveille

Red-eyed Vireo. Photo by: Mike Leveille

The chameleon, Calumma tarzan, while on the hunt for his Jane and a loin cloth.

Photo: Frank Glaw

Photo by: Frank Glaw

Check out Agra schwarzeneggeri ‘s biceps, I mean middle femora.

Photo by: Karie Darrow

Photo by: Karie Darrow

With a name like Toxicoscordion venenosum it’s no wonder this poisonous perennial is often referred to as death camas.

Photo by: Dawn Endico

Photo by: Dawn Endico

Homo sapiens, Latin for wise (wo)man, seen below birding.

Photo by: Chris Traynor

Photo by: Chris Traynor

Advertisements