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Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature
Mark Isaak       specimen@curioustaxonomy.net
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Etymology: Names from Mythology

Names in this category are numerous. These are just a sample.

Greek and Roman

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)]
Acherontia atropos L., A. lachesis Fabricius 1798, and A. styx Westwood, 1847 (deathhead hawk moth) Acheron and Styx are rivers in the Greek underworld. Atropos and Lachesis are two of the Fates.
Acteon Montfort, 1810 (gastropod) Named after the hunter Actaeon of Greek myth. The snails are predatory.
Anapachydiscus terminus Ward (late Cretaceous ammonite) "This was the last ammonite ever to have evolved on earth." Named for Terminus, the Roman god of boundaries.
Aphrodite (sea mouse, a polychaete)
Aquarius (water strider)
Ardeola bacchus (Bonaparte, 1855) (Chinese pond heron)
Arethusa (swamp pink) This orchid grows in aquatic environments in eastern North America. Named for a Greek nymph whom Artemis transformed into a spring so that she might not suffer the passions of a river god.
Argonauta argo L. (paper nautilus) Named for Jason's ship and its crew.
Astraptes augeas Brower 2010 (skipper butterfly) Named for the Augean stables, whose cleaning was Hercules' fifth labor. "The name recognizes the enormous throughput of the ACG barcoding endeavour and the resultant labour required of systematists." [Syst. Biodivers. 8: 486]
Athene Boie, 1822 (burrowing owl) The owl was Athene's sacred bird.
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.
Cassiopeia andromeda (Eschscholz) (upside-down sea jelly) Andromeda was the daughter of Cassiopeia in Greek myth.
Cloacina von Linstow 1898 (nematode) found only in the stomachs of kangaroos; named after Cloacina, the Roman goddess of the sewers.
Cyclops (copepod) with a single median eye.
Cyclopes (silky anteater)
Cymodoce, Dynamene, Eurydice, Jaera, Janira, Limnoria (isopods) All of these, described by Leach in 1814, are names of nereids, probably taken from the preface of Fabulae by Hyginus. The first nereid isopod, however, was Ligia Fabricius, 1798.
Daedalosaurus Carroll, 1978 (Late Permian gliding reptile from Madagascar) and Icarosaurus Colbert, 1970 (Upper Triassic gliding reptile from New Jersey), after Daedalus and Icarus.
Icarops Hand et al., 1998 (Miocene bat from Australia) "From Icaros, the mythological Greek who flew towards the sun, in reference to the ancient mystacinid that flew eastwards from Australia to New Zealand." [J. Paleo., 538-540].
Damocles Lund, 1986 (Carboniferous shark) The males had an elaborate projection from the back that ended poised over its head.
Erebus cyclops Felder, 1861 (noctuid moth)
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.
Hades Westwood, 1851 (riodinid butterfly)
Hadoprion (Hinde, 1879) (fossil polychaete) Named after Hades. (The "-prion" means "saw," after the fossil's toothed nature.)
Rapala hades de Nicéville, (1895) (African lycaenid butterfly)
Triclema hades Bethune-Baker, 1910 (butterfly)
Harpia harpyja (harpy eagle)
Harpymimus Barsbold & Perle, 1984 (theropod dinosaur)
Hermes Montfort, 1810 (snail)
Hydraena nike Jäch 1995 (beetle) Named for Nike, Greek goddess of victory, because Samothraki, the location of the beetle, is also the source of a superb statue of Nike. [Ann. Naturhist. Mus. Wien 97B: 177-190.]
Laelaps (mite) named for tenacious dog of Greek mythology.
Mars Jordan & Seale, 1906 (fish)
Merope Newman, 1838 (earwigfly) Merope is one of the Pleaides sisters.
Mercuriceratops gemini Ryan et al., 2014 (Cretaceous ceratopsid dinosaur) Named after Mercury because ornamentation on its head resembles the wings on the head of the Roman god, and Gemini because two almost identical specimens were found.
Moira atropis and M. clotho (heart urchins) In Greek myth, the Moirae are the three Fates, named Atropis, Clotho, and Lachesis.
Nemertes Cuvier, 1817 (sea worm) Named for the sea nereid Nemertes, wisest of her sisters.
Ouroborus Stanley et al., 2011 (armadillo lizard) The ouroboros is an ancient symbol of a serpent or dragon devouring its own tail. The lizard, when threatened, grabs its tail in its mouth and curls up.
Pan Oken, 1816 (chimpanzee)
Pandora Druguire, 1797 (clam)
Papio hamadryas (hamadryas baboon) Hamadryads, in Greek myth, were nymphs whose lives began and ended with a particular tree. These baboons live in rocky and dry areas and rarely climb trees.
Pectinivalva (Casanovula) minotaurus Hoare, 2013 (moth) Named for the minotaur because its flattened antennae resemble horns. [ZooKeys 278]
Pegasus Linnaeus, 1758 (seamoth fish)
Penelope Merrem, 1786 (guan)
Phaeton Linnaeus, 1758 (tropicbird)
Phoenix (date palm) Probably named not after the mythical bird, but for a king who fought with the Greeks at Troy and is credited with bringing the first date palms to Greece.
Pluto (aphid wasp)
Chalicodoma pluto Smith, 1860 (world's largest bee, from the rainforests of the Moluccas) The type specimen was collected by Alfred R. Wallace. Only one other specimen was found before 1990, when several nests were found in termite nests.
Polyphemus (water flea)
Poseidon Herklots, 1851 (crustacean)
Proteus Laurenti 1768 (blind cave salamander) Europe's only troglobitic chordate. Named for a Greek sea god, the son of Poseidon. There is also Amoeba proteus (amoeba), so named because Proteus had the ability to change form.
Rhea Brisson, 1760 (rhea)
Sagittarius serpentarius (secretary bird)
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.
Sterculius (rove beetle, or plant) Sterculius was the Greek god of the latrine, and rove beetles are often found associated with dung. Sterculius is also a genus of plant, many species of which emit a dung-like odor from flowers or leaves. Its family, Sterculiaceae, also includes chocolate and cola.
Stygia Meigen, 1820 (bombyliid fly, synonym)
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".
Tethys L., 1767 (sea slug) Tethys was both sister and wife of Oceanus.
Titanus giganteus (L) (cerambycid beetle) The world's largest (but not heaviest) beetle.
Urania Fabricius, 1807 (moth) Diurnal moths ironically named after the muse of astronomy.
Zeus Linnaeus, 1758 (dory fish)

Norse

Aegirosaurus Bardet & Fernandez, 2000 (Upper Jurassic ichthyosaur) Named for Aegir, god of the oceans and seashores.
Asgardaspira Wagner 1999 (snail) It is very loosely coiled, with a serpent-like look. [Smithsonian Contrib. to Paleobiology 88:1-154]
Clossiana frigga, C. freija (Thunberg, 1791) (fritillaries)
Clossiana thore (Hübner, 1803) (fritillary)
Freya Thery, 1943 (buprestid beetle)
Eoconodon nidhoggi Van Valen, 1978 (paleocene mammal) Named for the Nordic corpse-eating underworld serpent (and found in Purgatory Hill).
Midgardia Downey, 1972 (starfish) from the Midgard Serpent, "which lies at the bottom of the sea and encircles the earth." Midgardia xandaros has the longest arms (67 cm.) of any known starfish. [Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash. 84: 422]
Ragnarok Van Valen, 1978 (paleocene mammal, synonym of Baioconodon Gazin, 1941) for Norse end times, "Doom of the Gods."
Thor (Caribbean shrimp)
Scutisorex thori Stanley et al., 2013 (hero shrew) Hero shrews are unusually strong. [Biol. Lett. 9(5)]

Other European

Sampo Öpik, 1933 (Ordovician brachiopod) named for the three-sided magic mill that in Finnish mythology created flour, salt, and gold.
Balaur Csiki et al., 2010 (theropod dinosaur) A balaur is a dragon-like creature from Romanian myth.

Christian and Middle East

Angelica archangelica Linnaeus (umbellifer) Traditionally said to bloom on May 8, the day of St. Michael the Archangel.
Apocrypha Eschscholtz, 1831 (darkling beetle)
Arca noae (clam) after Noah's ark.
Anzu Lamanna et al., 2014 (theropod dinosaur) Named for a feathered demon in Akkadian and Sumerian mythology.
Delilah Dillon & Dillon, 1945 (longhorn beetle)
Livyatan Lambert et al. 2010 (fossil sperm whale). Originally named Leviathan, but that name was junior homonym; German paleontologist Albert Koch used it for an American mastadon skeleton in 1841, which name was itself invalid as Mammut had priority. Lambert et al. renamed the fossil whale Livyatan, from the original Hebrew spelling. [Nature 466: 105, 1134]
Mirapinna esau Bertelsen and Marshall 1956 (hairy fish) Named after Esau, a hairy character of the Bible. The fish has curious growths all over its body, making it look like it is covered in fur.
Goliathus (African scarab) One of the world's largest beetles.
Golem Whitley, 1957 (frogfish)
Ifrita Rothschild 1898 (blue-capped babbler of New Guinea) from Arabic ifrit 'djinn or spirit'.
Ipomopsis sancti-spiritus (Polemoniaceae) Holy ghost Ipomopsis, an endangered plant.
Purgatorius (Paleocene fossil primate) Named after Purgatory Hill, Montana?
Ziziphus spina-christi (L.) (spiny shrub or tree) Christ's crown-of-thorns is traditionally said to have been made from this plant.

Baalzebub (spider)
Beelzebufo Evans, Jones and Krause, 2008 (Cretaceous frog from Madagascar) nicknamed "the frog from hell" by the researchers.
Ateles belzebuth (white-fronted spider monkey)
Murina beelzebub Csorba et al., 2011 (tube-nosed bat)
Diabloceratops Kirkland et al., 2010 (Cretaceous ceratopsian dinosaur) Its horns and neck shield evoke images of the devil.
Lucifer Doderlein, 1882 (fish)
Paraxerus lucifer (rodent)
Mephisto Tyler, 1966 (spikefish)
Halicephalobus mephisto Borgonie et al., 2011 (nematode) The deepest known land animal, discovered 2.2 miles underground.
Bubalus mephistopheles (Hopwood, 1925) (extinct buffalo)
Pudu mephistopheles (Northern Pudu deer)
Satan Hubbs & Bailey, 1947 (catfish) A blind unpigmented fish from artesian wells 1000-1250 feet underground, near San Antonio, TX. "Satan eurystomus signifies 'wide-mouthed prince of darkness.'" [Occasional Papers Mus. Zool., U. of Mich. 499: 1-15.]
Satanoperca lilith Kullander & Ferreira 1988 (Amazonian cichlid) There were also S. daemon and S. jurupari (the latter named after a Tupi forest demon), but these have been moved to the genus Geophagus. [Cybium 12(4): 344; Ann. Wien. Mus. Naturges. 2: 389,392]
Solidago satanica Lunell, 1911 (goldenrod) Its type specimen came from Devil's Lake, North Dakota. (It is now probably synonymized with another species.) [American Midland Naturalist 2: 58]
Chiropotes satanas (Hoffmannsegg, 1807) (black bearded saki)
Colobus satanas (black colobus, sometimes called satanic colobus)
Daimonelix Barbour, 1891 ("Devil's corkscrew", nine-foot spiral tubes, trace fossil burrows of the Miocene beaver Paleocastor)

Astarte (clam)
Moloch Gray, 1841 (thorny devil lizard) Named after a Canaanite god as depicted by Milton.
Ninurta Stanley et al., 2011 (blue-spotted girdled lizard) Ninurta was the Sumerian and Akkadian god of, among other things, rain and the south wind. The lizard's genus refers to its occurrence along the cool, moist south coast of South Africa. [Mol. Phylo. Evo. 58: 53]
Stygimoloch Galton & Sues, 1983 (pachycephalosaur) from "Styx", for the Hell Creek Formation; "Moloch", after a Canaanite god.
Zu Walters & Fitch, 1960 (ribbonfish) Zu was an lesser Akkadian deity.

Egyptian

Abydosaurus (brachiosaur) Described from a fossilized skull and cervical vertebrae, it is named for the town Abydos in Egypt, where Osiris's head and neck were buried.
Ammonoidea (ammonite, fossil cephalopod) Named after the Egyptian god Amun (Ammon), who was represented by a ram, because the shells resemble ram's horns--in particular, the Horn of Ammon, the cornucopia from Roman myth.
Anubis Thomson, 1864 (longhorn beetle)
Papio anubis (olive baboon) The baboon was sacred in Egypt.
Kheper aegyptiorum Latreille, 1827 (dung beetle) Named after Khepera, god of the rising sun; the dung beetle is his emblem.
Osiris (bee)
Sphinx L., 1758 (sphinx moth)
Cynopterus sphinx (short-eared fruit bat)
Mandrillus sphinx (mandrill)
Thoth Linnavuori, 1993 (plant bug)

African

Jobaria Sereno et al, 1999 (Cretaceous sauropod) from the Niger Republic; named for "Jobar", a creature from Tuareg mythology.

Northern Asia

Azhdarcho Nessov, 1984 (Cretaceous Uzbekistan pterosaur) named for an Uzbek dragon.
Erlikosaurus Perle, 1980 (Mongolian therizinosaur) Erlik is the Siberian/Mongolian god of the dead.
Indricotherium (Oligo-Miocene rhinoceros) This, the largest terrestrial mammal, was named for Indrik, the Lord of the Animals in Russian folklore. Ironically, Indricotherium was hornless, while Lord Indrik was horned.
Samrukia Naish et al., 2012 (Cretaceous pterosaur) Named after Samruk, a Kazakh mythical bird.
Sordes Sharov, 1971 (Jurassic Kazakhstan pterosaur) named for a Russian demon.

Indian

Apsaravis Norell & Clark, 2001 (fossil bird) 'Apsara' (Sanskrit), winged consorts prominent in Buddhist and Hindu art, plus 'avis' (Gk), bird.
Brahmaea (moth)
Bramatherium Falconer, 1845 (Miocene giraffid),
Vishnutherium (fossil giraffid),
Sivatherium Falconer & Cautley, 1832 (Pleistocene giraffid) Named for the Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, the Creator, Sustainer, and Destroyer. All these giraffids are from India.
Citipati Clark, Norell & Barsbold, 2001 (oviraptor dinosaur) Citipati are funeral demons from Buddhist tradition, often represented by two dancing skeletons, representing the impermanence of worldly things.
Dibasterium durgae Briggs et al., 2012 (fossil horseshoe crab) Named for the Hindu goddess Durga, who has many arms. (The genus name refers to double limbs.) [PNAS 109: 15702]
Garudimimus Barsbold, 1981 (theropod dinosaur) "Garuda mimic"; Garuda is the Hindu prince of birds and national symbol of Indonesia.
Megalara garuda Kimsey & Ohl, 2012 (wasp) from Sulawesi, Indonesia. [ZooKeys 177: 49]
Kali Lloyd, 1909 (deep-sea swallower fish)
Lakhsmia venusta (Thwaites) Veldk., 2008 (grass from Sri Lanka) Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of beauty, charm, prosperity, and other positive things. The specific epithet derives from the Roman goddess of beauty, Venus. [Rheedea 18]
Protogryllus lakshmi Pérez-de la Fuente et al., 2012 (Jurassic cricket) Here, Lakshmi's influence over wealth and prosperity is the inspiration.
Ramapithecus (Miocene ape) from Pakistan; named after Rama.
Sivapithecus (Miocene ape) from India; named after Siva.
Stegodon ganesa (Pliocene elephant) Named for Ganesa, the elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom and art. It was the subject of the world's first postage stamp featuring a reconstructed prehistoric animal (in India, Jan. 1951).
Yamaceratops Makovicky & Norell, 2006 (Mongolian ceratopsian dinosaur) named for Yama, a Tibetan Buddhist deity.

East Asian

Aorun Choiniere et al. 2013 (theropod dinosaur) Named for Ao Run, the Dragon King of the West Sea, from the Mandarin epic Journey to the West.
Izanami Galil & Clark, 1994 (Matutine crab) named for Izanami, the primordial goddess in Japanese Shinto mythology.
Mahakala Turner et al., 2007 Named for one of eight protector deities of Tibetan Buddhism.
Tara Peckham & Peckham, 1886 (jumping spider) named for the Buddhist saviour-goddess, the feminine counterpart of the bodhisattva.

Australian and Pacific

Kakuru Molnar & Pledge, 1980 (theropod dinosaur) "Rainbow serpent" from South Australia. It is the only known dinosaur preserved as opal.
Kiwa 2006 ("yeti crab") Named for the Polynesian goddess of crustaceans.
Mauisaurus Hector 1874 (plesiosaur from New Zealand) after Maui, a demi-god of Maori mythology.
Obdurodon tharalkooschild Pian et al., 2013 (Miocene platypus) The specific epithet comes from a myth from South Australia (from the Dieyerie people?) in which a duck named Tharalkoo is ravished by a water rat and gives birth to the platypus.
Pseudionella akuaku Boyko & Williams, 2001 (isopod (Crustacea: Isopoda: Bopyroidea) parasitic on hermit crabs) Named after a Polynesian spirit known to pinch children.
Quinkana Molnar, 1981 (extinct crocodylian) Named after the Quinkans, a legendary folk often depicted in Australian rock art.
Tangaroa Lehtinen, 1967 (Tahitian uloborid spider) named for the Tahitian god of the sea.
Taniwhasaurus Hector 1874 (mosasaur from New Zealand) A taniwha is a dragon-like giant lizard of Maori myth.
Tinirau Swartz, 2012 (Devonian fish) Named for Tinirau, a Polynesian god, gaurdian of fish.
Wonambi Smith, 1976 (extinct snake) This giant snake takes its name from a South Australian aboriginal name for the Rainbow Serpent.
Woolungasaurus Persson 1964 (plesiosaur from Australia) after the Woolunga, a reptile-like beast from Aborigine mythology.
Xevioso Lehtinen, 1967 (Amaurobiid spider) named for a West African god of storm.
Yurlunggur Scanlon, 1992 (Middle Miocene madtsoiid python) named for the Australian rainbow serpent Yurlunggur.

Central America

Alabagrus coatlicue, A. ixtilton, A. mixcoatl, and A. xolotl (Braconid wasps) named for Aztec deities.
Aztlanolagus Russell & Harris, 1986. (Aztlán rabbit, a Pliocene/Pleistocene lagomorph). Aztlán is the legendary place of origin of the Nahua peoples as recorded in the mythology of the Aztecs and other Nahua groups. Some traditions place it in the border regions of the Southwestern United States and adjacent northern Mexico.
Eurhopalothrix hunhau, E. mabuya, E. xibalba and E. zipacna Longino, 2013 (ants) All names relate to the Mayan underworld. Xibalba is name of the Mayan underworld. Hunhau is a Mayan death god and a lord of the underworld. Zipacna is a crocodile-like demon, and Mabuya another demon. [Zootaxa 3693: 101]
Mammillaria huitzilopochtli Hunt, 1979 (Mexican cactus) Named for Huitzilopochtli, an Aztec war god.
Tlaloc Alvarez & Carranza, 1951 (Central American killifish) named for the Aztec rain and fertility deity.
Quetzalcoatlus northropi Lawson, 1975 (Texas pterosaur) Named after an Aztec god and an aircraft designer. The pterosaur was as large as an ultra-light plane.
Chrysina quetzalcoatli (Honduran jewel scarab)

Other Native American

Aleiodes mannegishii Fortier, 2009 (braconid wasp) "refers to tricksters called the Mannegishi, with large eyes, mythical 'little people' described by the Cree People."
Aleiodes selu Fortier, 2009 (braconid wasp) "refers to the Cherokee Corn Woman, Selu, and refers to the bright yellow-orange coloration of the female." [Zootaxa 2256]
Anhanguera Campos & Kellner, 1985 (Brazilian pterosaur) named for a Tupian spirit.
Atopophlebia pitculya Flowers, 2012 (mayfly) Named for a mythical being which the Cayapas of Ecuador say lives in streams and decorates its body with yellow dye. The mayfly is yellow. [Zootaxa 3478: 15]
Brontotherium Marsh (Oligocene ungulate) Named for the Sioux mythical "Thunder beast" (albeit in Greek, not Siouxan) associated with the big fossils exposed by thunderstorms in the Dakota badlands.
Hoplias curupira Oyakawa & Mattox, 2009 (wolf fish) Named after the Curupira, a mischievous creature of Brazilian folklore that protects the forest; it appears as a small child with its feet turned backwards, making it difficult to follow its tracks. The fish was so named because it took almost 18 years to gather enough material for the description. [Neotrop. Ichthyol. 7: 128]
Kelenken guillermoi Bertelli et al., 2007 (phorusrhacid) An extinct giant flightless carnivorous bird named after a 'fearsome spirit of the Tehuelche tribe ... represented as [a] giant bird of prey' [J. Vert. Paleontol. 27: 409]
Mapinguari Wiedemann, 1828 (gigantic mydid flies) Named for an ogre of Amazonian Indian folklore. Only three specimens are known.
Sacisaurus Ferigolo & Langer, 2006 (ornithischian dinosaur) named for Saci, a one-legged elf from Brazilian folklore, because the fossil was missing a leg.
Seitaad (sauropodomorph dinosaur) named for a mythological Navajo beast that swallowed its prey in sand dunes, alluding to the own creature's death.
Siats Zanno & Makovicky, 2013 (theropod dinosaur) This giant Cretaceous predator discovered in Utah is named after the siats (pronounced "see-atch"), a voracious monster of Ute legend.
Tapejara Kellner, 1990 (Brazilian pterosaur) "The old being" from Tupi mythology.
Tupilakosaurus Nielsen, 1954 (fossil amphibian) named after an Inuit water spirit.
Tupuxuara Kellner & Campos, 1989 (pterosaur from Brazil) named for a Tupian "familiar spirit".

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