Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature
Mark Isaak
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Etymology: Ribaldry

Sex is an important part of biology. "To tell you that nothing could equal the gross puruience of Linnaues's mind is perfectly needless. A literal translation of the first principles of Linnaean botany is enough to shock female modesty," wrote Rev. Samuel Goodenough in 1808. It is not surprising that sex should show up in names. How it shows up is another matter. . . .

Agathidium gallititillo Miller & Wheeler, 2005 (slime mold beetle) The specific name means "French tickle". (Wheeler considers this his favorite beetle name.)
Amorphophallus (Araceae) The name means something like "misshapen penis" for the shape of the flowering part, or spadix. Various species include Amorphophallus elegans, A. elatus, A. excentricus, A. gigas, A. hottae, A. impressus, A. interruptus, A. maximus, A. minor, A. odoratus, A. pendulus, A. purpurascens, A. pygmaeus, A. rugosus, A. spectabilis, and A. titanum (at heights up to 8 ft., A. titanum has the world's largest inflorescence, and one of the stinkiest.)
Ariolimax dolichophallus Mead, 1943 (slender banana slug) "Dolicho-" means long. This slug is the mascot of the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Bangiomorpha pubescens Butterfield, 2000 (fossil red alga) The fossil shows the first recorded sex act, 1.2 billion years ago. The "bang" in the name was intended as a euphamism for sex.
Botryotinia fuckeliana (de Bary) Whetzel (1945) (gray mold disease pathogen) Named after mycologist Karl Wilhelm Gottlieb Leopold Fuckel; better known by its asexual form, Botrytis cinerea.
Brachyphallus (flatworm parasitic on fish) "short phallus"
Cacoxenus pachyphallus Chassagnard & Tsacas, 2003 (fly) "Diseased-stranger thick-phallus". The pachyphallus epithet also occurs in the fly genera Antocha, Cryptolabis, and Danomyia, scarabs Microvalgus and Paediovalgus, and perhaps others.
Clitoria L. (butterfly pea) Probably named for the shape of the flowers.
Colymbosathon ecplecticos Siveter et al., 2003 (fossil ostracod) From "Kolymbos (swimmer) + sathon (with a big penis); ekplektikos (astounding)." In Greek, "sathon" is used ironically to toddlers, similar to "big willy" in English. At 425 million years old, the fossil preserves the oldest known instance of a penis. [Science 302: 1749]
Coprosma foetidissima Forst. & Forst. f. (New Zealand shrub) Literally, "stinkiest dung smell." Its leaves produce an offensive odor when rubbed.
Crepidula fornicata (Linnaeus, 1758) (slipper shell) This hermaphroditic shell forms stacks of individuals; the males on top turn into females as they grow. Linnaeus would not have know their sexual proclivities and probably had in mind fornicata as meaning "arched."
Cuterebra emasculator Fitch, 1856 and C. sterilator Lugger, 1897 (bot flies) Both consume the testes of their hosts (rodents).
Cynophallus caninus (Huds.) Fr. 1860 (dog stinkhorn), "canine dog-phallus", also known as Ithyphallus inodorus Gray 1821, "non-smelly tumescent phallus". Its accepted name now is Mutinus caninus (Huds.) Fr. 1849. Mutinus was the Roman equivalent of Priapus, preserving the ribaldry, albeit obscurely.
Cypraecassis testiculus (Linnaeus 1758) (sea shell) There are paired spots around the edges of the shell.
Enchantor modestus Manning A crab whose restricted carapace constantly exposes its copulatory organ. The name means "modest flasher."
Eroticoscincus Wells & Wellington, 1984 (subtropical Australian rainforest lizard). Means "sexy skink." A biologist comments, "I'd say these two need to get out more."
Exetastes fornicator Fabricius, 1781 (ichneumonid wasp)
Hornia (meloid beetle)
Labia minor Linnaeus (earwig)
Mammillaria (cactus) Named for its resemblance to breasts.
Monochamus titillator Fabricius (southern whitespotted pine sawyer, a cerambycid beetle)
Orchidaceae (orchids) from Greek "orkhis", testicle, referring to the appearance of the plants' pseudobulb. It was once believed that terrestrial orchids sprang from the spilled semen of mating animals.
Orchis mascula (orchid) "Male testicle"
Penicillus vaginiferous (Lamarck, 1818) (mollusc) Now a junior synonym of Brechites attrahens.
Phalium Link, 1807 (sea shell) Probably not after phallus, as the shell is not phallic-shaped. One species is named Phalium labiatum Perry 1811.
Phallus impudicus Linnaeus (stinkhorn fungus, family Phallaceae) There is also Phallus daemonicum.
Phallus drewesii Desjardin, 2009 (stinkhorn fungus) Named, with permission, for Robert Drewes, a distingushed herpetologist with a sense of humor. Quoth he, "The funny thing is that it is the second smallest known mushroom in this genus and it grows sideways, almost limp," and "I am utterly delighted."
Poescopia Gray (subgenus of humpback whale) From "poeskop", a local Dutch name meaning "cunthead" or "pisspot." [Proc. Zool. Soc. London, 1864, p. 207]
Probarbus labeamajor Roberts 1992 and Probarbus labeaminor Roberts 1992 (cyprinid freshwater fish) Referring either to outer genitals of women or size of lips of the fish. The intended interpretation has not been made official.
Priapulus (priapulid) Means "little penis". You need only look at one to see why.
Danionella priapus Bitz 2009 (cyprinid fish)
Scatophagus Bloch, 1788 (Scatophagidae) A fish that likes to hang around sewage outlets, commonly sold in the pet trade as the "spotted-scat" or just "scat".
Senecio squalidus L. (Oxford ragwort) Literally, "dirty old man."
Spinophallus uminskii (A. Riedel, 1960) (snail) "Uminski's spiny penis." Uminski approved the name.
Thelymitra (orchid) The literal translation is something like "lady bishop's hood", but this was a euphemism for "clitoris". The flowers have what appears to be a little hooded clitoris in their center.
Thetys vagina Tilesius 1802 (salp)
Trypauchen vagina Bloch & Schneider, 1801 (pink mud goby)
Ursus fornicatus magnus Schmerling 1833 (great cave bear) Now synonymized as U. spelaeus.
Venus mercenaria Linnaeus (clam) Means "Venus selling favors". Now reclassified as Mercenaria mercenaria.
Verpa penis (Linnaeus, 1758) (mollusc)
Volva volva volva Linnaeus, 1758 (egg shell or shuttlecock cowrie) Vulva-shaped.

Note that some names sound more risqué than they actually are, due to new and shifting meanings of words derived from formerly innocuous Latin and Greek. The suffix -anus indicates possession or connection by; for example, Astragalus goreanus Aitch. & Baker (legume) probably means, "for Dr. Gore". (The 1888 description does not give the author's intended etymology.) Vagina is simply the Latin word for "sheath" and in names can refer to various kinds of coverings. ( Vaginaria vaginata (Vaucher) Kuntze, a seaweed, must have multiple sheaths.) And the root fornica- simply means "arched."

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