Etymology: Names from Mythology
Names in this category are numerous. These are just a sample.
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.
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
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
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
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
Cyclopes (silky anteater)
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,
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.
Damocles Lund, 1986 (Carboniferous shark) The males had
an elaborate projection from the back that ended poised over its
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)
Harpia harpyja (harpy eagle)
Harpymimus Barsbold & Perle, 1984 (theropod
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.]
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].
Laelaps (mite) named for tenacious dog of
Mars Jordan & Seale, 1906 (fish)
Moira atropis and
M. clotho (heart urchins) In Greek myth,
the Moirae are the three Fates, named Atropis, Clotho, and
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
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".
Titanus giganteus (L) (cerambycid beetle)
The world's largest (but not heaviest) beetle.
Zeus Linnaeus, 1758 (dory fish)
Aegirosaurus Bardet & Fernandez, 2000
(Upper Jurassic ichthyosaur) Named for Aegir, god of the oceans and
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)
Clossiana thore (Hübner, 1803)
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
Thor (Caribbean shrimp)
Scutisorex thori Stanley et al., 2013
(hero shrew) Hero shrews are unusually strong. [Biol. Lett.
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
Angelica archangelica Linnaeus (umbellifer)
Traditionally said to bloom on May 8, the day of St. Michael the
Apocrypha Eschscholtz, 1831 (darkling
Arca noae (clam) after Noah's ark.
Delilah Dillon & Dillon, 1945 (longhorn
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,
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
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.
Beelzebufo Evans, Jones and Krause, 2008
(Cretaceous frog from Madagascar) nicknamed "the frog from hell" by
Ateles belzebuth (white-fronted spider
Murina beelzebub Csorba et al., 2011
Lucifer Doderlein, 1882 (fish)
Mephisto Tyler, 1966 (spikefish)
Halicephalobus mephisto Borgonie et al.,
2011 (nematode) The deepest known land animal, discovered 2.2
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:
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]
Bubalus mephistopheles (Hopwood, 1925) (extinct
Pudu mephistopheles (Northern Pudu deer)
Paraxerus lucifer (rodent)
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
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.
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
Sphinx L., 1758 (sphinx moth)
Cynopterus sphinx (short-eared fruit bat)
Mandrillus sphinx (mandrill)
Thoth Linnavuori, 1993 (plant bug)
Jobaria Sereno et al, 1999 (Cretaceous
sauropod) from the Niger Republic; named for "Jobar", a creature from
Azhdarcho Nessov, 1984 (Cretaceous Uzbekistan pterosaur)
named for an Uzbek dragon.
Erlikosaurus Perle, 1980 (Mongolian
therizinosaur) Erlik is the Siberian/Mongolian god of the
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.
Sordes Sharov, 1971 (Jurassic Kazakhstan pterosaur)
named for a Russian demon.
Apsaravis Norell & Clark, 2001 (fossil bird)
'Apsara' (Sanskrit), winged consorts prominent in Buddhist and Hindu
art, plus 'avis' (Gk), bird.
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
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:
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
Ramapithecus (Miocene ape) from Pakistan; named
Sivapithecus (Miocene ape) from India; named
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
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
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.
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.
Pseudionella akuaku Boyko & Williams, 2001
(isopod (Crustacea: Isopoda: Bopyroidea) parasitic on hermit crabs)
Named after a Polynesian spirit known to pinch children.
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
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
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
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
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
Aleiodes mannegishii Fortier, 2009
(braconid wasp) "refers to tricksters called the Mannegishi, with
large eyes, mythical 'little people' described by the Cree
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
Anhanguera Campos & Kellner, 1985 (Brazilian
pterosaur) named for a Tupian spirit.
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
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.
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.
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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