Saturday, November 26, 2011

Mythical taxonomy

From Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature, some interesting taxonomic names with their roots in classical mythology: 
  • Achelousaurus horneri Sampson, 1995 (ceratopsian dinosaur). This hornless ceratopsian evolved from horned ancestors. It was named for Achelous, a Greek river god whose horn was broken in a battle with Heracles. The species name (for paleontologist Jack Horner) replaces the lost horn. [J. Vert. Paleo. 15(4)]
  • Thermarces cerberus Rosenblatt and Cohen, 1986 (Eelpout fish) from the Galapagos rift vents. Cerberus was the three-headed dog that guarded the gates of Hades.
  • Daedalosaurus Carroll, 1978 (Late Permian gliding reptile from Madagascar) and Icarosaurus Colbert, 1970 (Upper Triassic gliding reptile from New Jersey), after Daedalus and Icarus.
  • Damocles Lund, 1986 (Carboniferous shark) The males had an elaborate projection from the back that ended poised over its head.
  • Gorgonocephalus medusae (basket star) The basket star looks like a mass of serpents. Medusa was the most famous of the Gorgons, which had serpents for hair.
  • Pegasus Linnaeus, 1758 (seamoth fish)
  • Amoeba proteus (amoeba), so named because Proteus had the ability to change form.
  • Sisyphus Latreille, 1807 (dung beetle) Named after a king condemned in Hades to roll an immense boulder uphill, only to have it inevitably break free and roll down again, this beetle makes and rolls large balls of dung with greater success.
  • Talos Zanno et al., 2011 (birdlike theropod dinosaur) Named for a winged bronze giant of Greek mythology, which could run extremely fast and which succumbed to an ankle wound. The name is also a pun on "talon".
Another particularly lovely name in this vein belongs to Prodryas persephone, a fossil butterfly whose species name refers to the queen of the underworld. (The naturalist who named Prodryas gave similarly allusive names to two other fossil butterflies: Lithopsyche styx and Jupiteria charon.)

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff! The Latin names so often tell interesting stories, it's a shame they're often not so easy to uncover.