Friday, May 30, 2008

Fun with Latin & the Power of Names

One of the basic fundamentals of biology is about nomenclature aka its all about the NAMES of the species!

The scientific names of all organisms are overseen and regulated by an international commission which regulates basic rules of how animals, plants, and other organisms are described and named. For animals this is The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (or ICZN). For plants, its the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, etc. Scientific names are in Latin or Greek. Latin was historically the language of scholars and is also conveniently dead, making its use for various scientific and biological endeavors quite convenient.

 Unfortunately, because these words are out of common usage most people have NO frakking idea what you're talking about-whether its at cocktail parties or in a classroom.

Sometimes, scientific names are kind of obscure and require a little knowledge about the history of the species involved, but most times, names are pretty straightforward descriptions of the animals if you translate them from Latin (or Greek) into English...

 So, for example, this beast: the genus Solaster. Sol or solaris is Latin for "sun" and -aster is Latin for star. So the name literally means "sun star" which alludes to its very sun-like or stellate appearance. Equally straightforward is something like this beast: Oreaster reticulatus from the tropical Atlantic. Oreas is from the Greek/Latin for "mountain" and -aster for "star" translates to "Mountain star". The 2nd part of the name is an adjective. Reticulatus literally translates into "net-like" or netted (alluding to the patterns on the surface)..so the complete name Oreaster reticulatus can be read as "Netted Mountain star" Tosia australis? The beautiful biscuit star found in Australia? This one is easy Tosia is actually a Latin word for "Inestimable" and australis simply refers to "south" or "southern". But what about some of these other stranger names? Like this one: Luidia? Turns out, this one is actually named for Edward Lhuyd, a Welsh naturalist from the 17th-18th Century. Lots of guys back then used to give themselves fancy Latin names in the fashion of Carl von Linne' (aka Linneus). His latin name was Luidius. Luidius was known for some interesting discoveries including (but probably not limited to):

  • He apparently was responsible for the first scientific description of what the modern world would call a dinosaur.
  • He also published one of the first major papers on stellate echinoderms in 1703: The Praelectio de Stellis Marinis Oceani Brittanici.

Another starfish named for a naturalist you've probably never heard of? Naroda . This beast was named for the Italian naturalist Giovanni Domenico Nardo from Chioggi, Italy who was part of the starfish crowd back in the 19th century. Its been said for demons and other magical entities that knowing its name gave you power over it. I think that might even be true for animals

1 comment:

Jives said...

Cool post, Chris!
So have people stopped latinizing their names to name sea stars after themselves? Why? Are invert biologists suddenly modest?