31 March 2010


(Image of Phialella zappai from here)

The jellyfish Phialella zappai was named by Ferdinando Boero as part of his plan to get to meet Frank Zappa. "There is nothing I'd like better than having a jellyfish named after me," Zappa replied. And so they met. (The long story, well worth a read, here.)

Binomial nomenclature is not supposed to be humorous. Yet a few odd scientific names slip by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. Entomologists seem bugged by congenital punning. At least one marine biologist favored magic. This list of favorites is from Deep Type Flow.
  • Agra vation (a beetle)
  • Colon rectum (another beetle)
  • Ba humbugi (a snail)
  • Aha ha ( a wasp)
  • Lalapa lusa (a wasp)
  • Leonardo davinci (a moth)
  • Abra cadabra (a clam, now, alas, in the genus Theora)
  • Gelae baen, Gelae belae, Gelae donut, Gelae fish, and Gelae rol (all types of fungus beetles)
  • Villa manillae, Pieza kake and Reissa roni  (bee flies)
  • La cerveza (a moth)
  • Ytu brutus (a beetle) 

      Curioustaxonomy lists several palindromes, including:
      • Orizabus subaziro (a scarab beetle)
       Plus an extinct pterosaur named for an extinct author:
      • Arthurdactylus conandoylensis
      Plus an extinct fish named for the famed British documentarian who gave it its 15-plus minutes of fame:
      • Materpiscis attenboroughi

      (Model of Materpiscis attenboroughi at Museum Victoria 2008)

      Curioustaxonomy has a lot more puns and plays on words:
      • La cucaracha (a moth)
      • Phthiria relativitae (a bombyliid fly)
      • Pieza rhea (a fly)
      • Vini vidivici (a recently extinct parrot)
      In the section on unused names: 
      • An anthropologist, noting that the group including African apes is named Panini, suggested in jest that the subset of those which have language should be called Linguini
      Strange and poignant, the irukandji jellyfish named for American tourist Robert King, whose death from its sting highlighted the heretofore invisible danger of a species no bigger than your fingernail:
      • Malo kingi

      (Photo of Malo kingi by Lisa-ann Gershwin)

      Plus a short poem celebrating taxonomy's longevity:

      A Discovery
      by Vladimir Nabokov, 1943

      Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that pilgrims kiss
      Poems that take a thousand years to die
      But ape the immortality of this
      Red label on a little butterfly.

      Post a Comment