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Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature
Mark Isaak       specimen@curioustaxonomy.net
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Wordplay: Tautonyms

Tautonyms are those names composed of the same word twice (e.g., Vulpes vulpes, the red fox).

Plant Tautonyms

Official rules of Botanical Nomenclature forbid tautonyms. Still, a few exist as synonyms of the accepted names.

Lablab lablab (L.) Lyons (hyacinth bean) synonym for Lablab purpureus (L.) Sweet.
Opuntia opuntia (L.) Karst. (eastern prickly pear) synonym for O. humifusa (Raf.) Raf. Linnaeus described Cactus opuntia, which was then moved to genus Opuntia, which had to be renamed because botany disallows tautonyms.
Thevetia thevetia (L.) H.Karst. (yellow oleander) synonym for Cascabela thevetia (L.) H.Lippold.

There are also several near-tautonyms in botany:

Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp. (pigeon pea)
Cuminum cyminum L. (cumin)
Inga ynga (Vell.) J.W.Moore (icecream bean) synonym for Inga edulis Mart.
Lycopersicon lycopersicum (L.) Farw. (tomato) synonym for Solanum lycopersicum L.
Mammillaria mammillaris (L.) H.Karst. (mammillaria cactus)
Mielichhoferia mielichhoferiana Loeske, 1910 (copper moss)
Oxycoccus oxycoccos (L.) MacMillan (cranberry) synonym for Vaccinium oxycoccos L.
Ziziphus zizyphus (L.) R.D. Meikle (common jujube) synonym for Z. jujuba Miller.

Animal Tautonyms

A long list of animal tautonyms is here; it includes all the valid names I am aware of. Here are some record-setters from that list:

Loa loa (a nematode) - shortest tautonym.
Archigyrodactylus archigyrodactylus Mizelle & Kritsky, 1967 (flatworm) and Icelanonchohaptor icelanonchohaptor Leiby, Kritsky & Peterson, 1972 (flatworm) - longest tautonyms.
Bufo bufo bufo (European toad),
Naja naja naja (Sri Lankan cobra) - shortest trinomials.
Coccothraustes coccothraustes coccothraustes (L. 1758) (hawfinch) - longest trinomial

Other species are notable as three-way near misses; both parts of the binomial and the common name differ slightly:

Babyrousa babyrussa (babirusa, a wild pig)
Suricata suricatta (suricate or meerkat, a south African mongoose)

Tautonymic Meanings

Of more interest are those cases where the genus and species mean the same thing in two languages:

Amaradix bitterrootensis (Dunn, 1923) (flea) Greek/English "bitter-root of-bitter-root"
Anous stolidus L. (brown noddy) Greek/Latin: "stupid"
Anthrax carbo Rondani, 1875 (bee fly) Gk/La: "coal, ember"
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng. (bearberry) Gk/La: "berry-of-bear"
Ardea herodias L. (great blue heron) La/Gk: "heron"
Asio otus (L.) (long-eared owl) La/Gk: "horned owl"
Asterolinon linum-stellatum (L.) Duby (Primulaceae) Gk: "star flax"/La: "flax starry"
Badisis ambulans McAlpine 1990 (wingless stilt-legged fly) Gk/La: "walking"
Balanus glandula Darwin, 1854 (acorn barnacle) Gk/La: "acorn little-acorn"
Brachyramphus brevirostris (Vigors, 1829) (Killitz's murrelet) Gk/La: "short beak"
Bycanistes bucinator (Temminck, 1824) (trumpeter hornbill) Gk/La: "trumpeter"
Castor fiber L. (European beaver) Gk/La: "beaver"
Cephalopyrus flammiceps (Burton, 1836) (fire-capped tit) Gk/La: "head-fire fire-head"
Cervus elaphus L. (red deer) La/Gk: "stag"
Corvus corax L. (crow) La/Gk: "crow"
Cygnus olor (Gmelin, 1789) (mute swan) Gk/La: "swan"
Diceros bicornis (L.) (black rhino) Gk/La: "two horns"
Equus caballus L. (horse) La/Gallic: "horse, nag"
Felis catus L. (domestic cat) La/La: "cat"
Gazella dorcas (L.) (dorcas gazelle) Arabic-Latin/Gk: "gazelle"
Hemicentetes semispinosus (G. Cuvier, 1789) (streaked tenrec) Gk/La: "half-prickle"
Kryptopterus cryptopterus (Bleeker, 1851) (blue sheathfish) Gk/Gk: "hidden-fin"
Liquidambar styraciflua L. (sweetgum) Literally (in Latin) "fluid-ambergris flowing-styrax". Ambar is more commonly but less accurately associated with the amber from plant resins, and styrax is both a plant and the resin it produces, so "fluid-resin fluid-resin" would be a reasonable translation.
Megaceryle alcyon (L.) (belted kingfisher) Gk/La: "big kingfisher kingfisher"; it has also been known by the fully tautonymous synonym Ceryle alcyon.
Melanitta nigra (L.) (common scoter) Gk/La: "black duck black"
Nucifraga caryocatactes (L.) (European nutcracker) La/Gk: "nutcracker"
Nyctalus noctula (Schreber, 1774) (noctule) Gk/La: "little night"
Ovis aries L. (domestic sheep) La/Gk: "sheep"
Pecari tajacu (L.) (peccary) Spanish word / Portuguese transcriptions of the Guarani "tajasu": peccary
Picea omorika (Pancic) Purk. (Serbian spruce) La/Serbian: "spruce Serbian-spruce"
Pogona barbata (Cuvier, 1829) (bearded lizard) Gk/La: "bearded"
Silurus glanis L. (European catfish) La/Gk: "catfish"
Sphaerostoma globiporum (Rutolphi, 1802) (helminth) Gk/La: "ball-mouth ball-opening"
Symphalangus syndactylus (Raffles, 1821) (Siamang gibbon) Gk/Gk: "joined-toe-bone joined-toe"
Tetracerus quadricornis (Blainville, 1816) (four-horned antelope) Gr/La: "four-horned four-horn"
Tibicen auletes Germar, 1834 (northern dusk-singing cicada) La/Gk: "flutist". There is also Auletes tubicen (a weevil), "flutist trumpeter".
Toxotes jaculatrix (Pallas, 1767) (archerfish) Gk/La: "dart-shooter"
Tragopan satyra (L.) (Himalayan pheasant) Pan and satyrs are commonly represented with legs of goats; "trago-" is Greek for goat.
Trionyx triunguis (Forskal, 1775) (African soft-shelled turtle) Gk/La: "three-claws"
Upupa epops L. 1758 (hoopoe) La/Gk: hoopoe
Ursus arctos L. (brown bear) La/Gk: "bear"
Xiphias gladius L. (swordfish) Gk/La: "sword"

Equisetum Subg. Hippochaete (J. Milde) Baker (horsetail) La/Gk: "horse bristle"

Finally, these pairs of species deserves note:

Lonicera caprifolium and L. tragophylla (Caprifoliaceae, honeysuckles) Both specific epithets mean "goat leaf," in Latin and Greek respectively.
Rhinolophus ferrumequinum (greater horseshoe bat) and R. hipposideros (lesser horseshoe bat). "Ferrumequinum" means horseshoe in Latin; "hipposideros" means the same in Greek.

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