Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature
Mark Isaak
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Many names are curious because of how they sound, either because they sound like other words or because they sound funny on their own.


Abra cadabra (Eames & Wilkins) 1957 (clam) Now, alas, synonymized as Theora mesapotamica.
Agra cadabra Erwin (carabid)
Agra dable Erwin, 2002 (carabid) From Spanish word 'agradable' meaning 'pleasing'.
Agra memnon Erwin, 1987 (carabid)
Agra vate Erwin, 1986 and Agra vation Erwin, 1983 (carabid) Erwin says there is nothing aggravating about the latter.
Agra phobia Erwin (carabid)
Apopyllus now Platnick & Shadab, 1984 (spider)
Arkansaurus Sattler, 1993 (Ornithomimid dinosaur) from Arkansas; now known as Arkanosaurus.
Atrochus Wierzejski, 1893 (rotifer)
Ba humbugi Solem, 1983 (endodontoid snail) from Mba island, Fiji.
Bombylius aureocookae Evenhuis, 1984 (bee fly)
Carmenelectra shechisme Evenhuis, 2002 (fossil mythicmyiid fly) from Dominican amber.
Carmenelectra shehuggme Evenhuis, 2013 (fossil mythicmyiid)
Castnia inca dincadu Miller, 1972 (castniid moth) [Bull. Allyn Mus. 6: 1-13]
Cephise nuspesez Burns (skipper butterfly) pronounced "new species".
Charis ma and Charis matic (butterflies) These attractive butterflies have now been moved from Charis to the genus Detritivora, spoiling everything.
Chrysops balzaphire Philip, 1955 (deer fly)
Cindarella eucalla Chen, Ramsköld, Edgecombe and Zhou, 1997 (trilobite)
Cyclocephala nodanotherwon Ratcliffe (scarab) Ratcliffe described several others in this large genus.
Daphoenus demilo Dawson, 1980 (fossil carnivore) The genus is pronounced da-FEE-nus. It has since been synonymized with Daphoenus lambei.
Desmatoneura jambalaia Hall & Evenhuis, 1987 (bee fly)
Dissup irae (Kovalev, 1989) (a hard-to-see fossil eremochaetid fly)
Eubetia bigaulae Brown (tortricid moth) pronounced "youbetcha bygolly".
Eurygenius (pedilid beetle)
Gelae baen, Gelae belae, Gelae donut, Gelae fish, and Gelae rol Miller and Wheeler, 2004 (fungus beetles)
Gressittia titsadaysi Philip, 1980 (horse fly)
Hebejeebie Heads, 2003 (Plantaginaceae) a member of the Hebe complex; it has caused taxonomists anxiety because its classification is problematic. [Botanical Society of Otago Newsletter 36:10-13]
Ittibittium Houbrick, 1993 (mollusc) These are smaller than molluscs of the genus Bittium.
Heerz lukenatcha Marsh, 1993 (braconid)
Heerz tooya Marsh, 1993 (braconid)
Hunkydora Fleming, 1948 (clam) (subgenus of Myadora)
Kamera lens Woodcock, 1917 (protist)
La cucaracha Blesynski, 1966 (pyralid)
La paloma Blesynski, 1966 (pyralid)
Lalapa lusa Pate, 1947 (tiphiid wasp)
Lycodryas cococola Hawlitschek et al., 2012 (tree snake) The epithet is derived from Cocos, genus name of the coconut palm, and "-cola", a suffix meaning "inhabiting." Nothing is said about similarity to the name of a drink, but it cannot plausibly have gone unnoticed.
Meomyia Evenhuis, 1983 (fly)
Notamacropus Dawson & Flannery, 1985 (genus/subgenus of kangaroo) The Latin word for stripe, nota, refers to this kangaroo's facial stripe. But, as paleontologist Tim Flannery later noted in a popular book, the name "is also a joke, for we wanted to emphasise that these creatures were 'not a Macropus', the genus in which they were once classified." [Australisan J. of Zool. 33: 473; Flannery, T., 2006, Country]
Mini mum, Mini scule, and Mini ature Scherz et al., 2019 (frogs) These are among the world's smallest frogs. The etymologies say specifically that the epithets were created to form puns referring to the frogs' small size. [PLoS ONE 0213314]
Notnops, Taintnops, Tisentnops Platnick, 1994 (caponiid spiders) These Chilean spiders were originally placed in the genus Nops, but Platnick separated them into these new genera when he reexamined them.
Notoreas Meyrick, 1886 (lep)
Ochisme Kirkaldy, 1904 (hemiptera)
Dolichisme Kirkaldy, 1904 (hemiptera)
Florichisme Kirkaldy, 1904 (hemiptera)
Marichisme Kirkaldy, 1904 (hemiptera)
Nanichisme Kirkaldy, 1904 (hemiptera)
Peggichisme Kirkaldy, 1904 (hemiptera)
Polychisme Kirkaldy, 1904 (hemiptera) Kirkaldy was criticized for frivolity by the London Zoological Society in 1912.
Oedipus complex Dunn, 1924 (lungless salamander) Since renamed Oedipina complex.
Ohmyia omya Thompson, 1999 (syrphid fly)
Omyomymar Schauff, 1983 (mymarid parasitic wasp)
Oopsacas Topsent, 1927 (glass sponge) The name sounds exactly as French "Oups ça casse", which means, "Oops it breaks." Glass sponges can be fragile.
Pharlapiscus (Australian short-snouted sea horse) Named for the great Australian Racehorse Phar Lap. Regrettably, the genus has now been replaced with the older Hippocampus.
Phthiria relativitae Evenhuis, 1985 (bombyliid fly) Since reclassified in the genus Poecilognathus.
Pieza deresistans Evenhuis, 2002 (mythicomyiid fly)
Pieza kake Evenhuis, 2002 (mythicomyiid fly)
Pieza pi Evenhuis, 2002 (mythicomyiid fly)
Pieza rhea Evenhuis, 2002 (mythicomyiid fly)
Pison eyvae Menke, 1988 (sphecid)
Ptomaspis, Dikenaspis, Ariaspis (Devonian armored jawless fish) Remove the "-aspis" to see the pun.
Puya loca Madriñán, 2015 (bromeliad) "The name of the species honors the 'puya loca', a popular song from the Colombian Caribbean composed by Diofante Jiménez Robles, from the folk ensemble 'Cumbia Soledeña', which is performed in time with the 'puya', a musical subgenre of cumbia . . . ." The epithet 'loca' "sometimes used as a synonym for eccentric," refers to the unusual color of its flowers.
Reissa roni Evenhuis & Baéz, 2001 (mythicomyiid fly)
Rhyacophila tralala Schmid (caddisfly)
Riga toni Evenhuis 2013. (Eocene fly)
Serendipidae Evenhuis, 1994 (fossil fly family, for the genus Serendipa Evenhuis 1994) Dan Brooks also described Serendipidae in 1994 (for the parasite Serendip), but Evenhuis's name has priority. The two have since coauthored a paper changing Brooks' family group name to Serendipeidae, with the same pronunciation.
Strategus longichomperus Ratcliffe (Honduran scarab) with long mandibles
Tabanus nippontucki Philip, 1942 (horse fly) Described during the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Tabanus rhizonshine Philip, 1954 (horse fly)
Trombicula doremi Brennan & Beck, 1955 (chigger)
Trombicula fasola Brennan & Beck, 1955 (chigger)
Turbo (snail)
Verae peculya Marsh, 1993 (braconid)
Vini vidivici Steadman & Zarriello, 1987 (Conquered lorikeet) This parrot from the Marquesas, Cook, and Society Islands has been extinct since c. AD 1000. The genus Vini has been in use since 1831.
Ytu brutus Spangler, 1980 (water beetle) "Ytu" comes from the local (in Brazil) word for waterfall.

Insulting Puns

One clause of the ICZN says, "No zoologist should propose a name that, to his knowledge, gives offense on any grounds." It seems that not all zoologists are aware of this rule. . . .

It is alleged that Linnaeus retaliated against his enemies by naming weeds after them, but I know of no such cases. Siegesbeckia L. was so named before Linnaeus and Siegesbeck quarrelled. Bufo Linnaeus (toad) is the Latin word for "toad" and was not named for Comte de Buffon, another of Linnaeus's ardent critics. Loeflingia L. (a Spanish weed) was named not after an enemy but after Löfling, a beloved pupil of Linnaeus who died of fever in the course of a botanical expedition to South America.
Aphanus rolandri Linnaeus, 1758 (seed bug) Rolander was a student of Linnaeus who collected thousands of specimens in Suriname, but refused to turn them over to Linnaeus, intending to publish himself. Linnaeus effectively had him blacklisted and named this bug after him; "aphanus" is from the Greek for ignoble or obscure.
Anodonta imbicilis Say, 1829 (freshwater mussel) I wonder how intelligent Say expected mussels to be.
Dyaria Neumoegen, 1893 (liparid moth) "Honoring" Mr. Dyar. (Probably no insult was intended.)
Commelina Linnaeus (day-flower) Named after the three members of the Dutch Commelin family, two of which prospered. The flower has three petals, one of which is small, pale, and shriveled.
Mosasaurus copeanus Marsh.  Cope and Marsh were paleontologists engaged in a fossil-hunting "war" in the late 1800's. "-Anus" simply means "pertaining to", but another implication is obvious.
Anisonchus cophater Cope (Miocene mammal) Edward Cope wrote in a letter to Henry F. Osborn: "Osborn, it's no use looking up the Greek derivation of cophater, ... for I have named it in honor of the number of Cope-haters who surround me...." [Jane Pierce Davidson, 1997, The Bone Sharp; the life of Edward Drinker Cope, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia Special Publication 17, p. 69]
Foadia Pakaluk, 1985 (beetle) FOAD is an acronym for "F*** Off and Die."
Oxyacodon marshater van Valen, 1978 (fossil mammal)
Phycomyces blakesleeanus Burgeff (filamentous fungus) Burgeff disliked Blakesley.
Dinohyus hollandi Peterson (Miocene entelodont) Named after Carnegie Museum director W. J. Holland, who insisted that he be listed as senior author on every paper written by his staff. The name means "Holland's terrible pig." A Pittsburgh paper announced the discovery with the front-page headline, "Dinohyus hollandi, The World's Biggest Hog!."
Isbergia planifrons Warburg, 1925 (trilobite) Two Swedish paleontologists, Elsa Warburg and Orvar Isberg, were on unfriendly terms in the 1920-1930s. Warburg was Jewish and quite large; Isberg was a national socialist, politically far to the right. Warburg's name planifrons means "with a flat forehead", which in Scandanavia means stupid. Isberg retaliated later, naming:
Warburgia crassa Isberg, 1934 (Ordovician mussel); crassa means "fat".
Losdolobus Platnick and Brescovit, 1994 (Brazilian orsolobid spider) Platnick and Brescovit wanted to pay tribute to a couple of Argentine guys who helped them and asked them to suggest a name, and they proposed "losdolobus," which loosely translates as "orsolobid of the two guys". ("Los dos" means "the two," and "-olobus" is the ending of all genera in the family.) However, the two guys (Pablo Goloboff and Martín Ramírez) had a double meaning in mind when they proposed it. Letters or syllables are often reversed in colloquial Argentine, so the name also refers to "los boludos," a colloquial term which means "the good-for-nothings."
Rosenblattia robusta Mead & De Falla, 1965 (a deep-sea fish) and
Sphoeroides rosenblatti Walker & Bussing, 1996 (eastern Pacific puffer fish) These robust fish were named for Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientist Richard Rosenblatt, who is pretty robust himself.
Shillingsworthia shillingsworthi Girault 1920 (mymarid wasp). Lambasting J. F. Illingsworth, Girault described this wasp as a creature with no head, thorax, abdomen, legs, antennae, or wings (i.e., nonexistent), "blank, vacant, inaneness perfect. . . . Visible only from certain points of view. Shadowless. An airy species whose flight cannot be followed except by the winged mind. . . . This so thin genus is consecrated to Doctor Johann Francis Illingworth, in these days remarkable for his selfless devotion to Entomology, not only sacrificing all of the comforts of life, but as well as his health and reputation to the uncompromising search for truth."
Townesilitus Haeselbarth & Loan, 1983 (braconid) Named after Henry Townes.


Andropogon gayanus Kunth (Gamba grass)
Aploparaksis turdi (Williamson & Rausch), 1965 (cestode tapeworm)
Arses (monarch flycatcher)
Batrachuperus longdongensis (salamander)
Botryotinia fuckeliana (de Bary) Whetzel, (1945) (plant pathogen fungus) and Didymella fuckeliana (Pass.) Sacc. (1882) (another); both named after Karl Wilhelm Gottlieb Leopold Fuckel.
Bugeranus Gloger, 1842 (wattled crane)
Clitocybe nuda (Blewit mushroom)
Colon rectum Hatch, 1933 (leiodid beetle) Also Colon grossum Hatch, 1957, Colon monstrosum , and others.
Dendrobium bigibbum Lindl. (1852) (Cooktown orchid)
Dolichuranus Keyser, 1973 (Triassic therapsid)
Dorcus titanus Boisduval, 1835 (stag beetle)
Doryctes fartus Provancher, 1880 (braconid)
Enema pan (Fabricius), 1775 (rhinoceros beetle)
Eremobates inyoanus Muma and Brookhart, 1988 (solpugid) Inyo is the county where it was first found.
Fartulum Carpenter, 1857 (tiny caecid gastropod) It is rather like a turd in shape and color, too.
Fukuia Abbott & Hunter, 1949 (snail)
Fuchsia Plumier, 1703 (flowering shrub) Pronounced FYOO-sha in English, but since it is named after German botanist Leonhart Fuchs, it should be pronounced FOOK-sia, which sounds less innocent. In Dutch, it is pronounced FUK-sia and is sometimes used to disguise the four-letter word.
Fukuiraptor Azuma & Currie, 2000 (theropod dinosaur) From the Fukui province of Japan; an alternate pronounciation of the first two syllables suggests itself.
Fundulus heteroclitus (Linnaeus, 1766) (killfish)
Inyoaster Phleger, 1936 (starfish)
Labia minor (Linnaeus) (earwig)
Mallotus (Euphorbiaceae tree) In Dutch, "malloot" means a clownish person.
Narcissus assoanus Dufour. (rushleaf jonquil, a U.S. lily)
Natica josephine (marine snail) Innocent-sounding in most of the world, but in Italy, "natica" means "buttock," and "Josephine" is a derogatory name for the Pope.
Orgia nova Fitch, 1863 (moth)
Peniculus asinus Kabata & Wilkes, 1977 (copepod) "The specific name refers to the remarkably asinine appearance of the specimen. . . .", but the ass they refer to is Equus asinus. [Can. J. Zool. 55:1988-1991.]
Pison eu Menke, 1988 (sphecid)
Pinus rigida and Pinus flexilis (pines)
Polystichum rectum Han et al. 2018 (fern)
Poospiza (warbling-finch)
Psathyropus mysoreanus (harvestman) Originally this was Metagagrella mysoreana Roewer 1954, so named, presumably, because it came from Mysore. The genus Metagagrella has been synonymised with the older name Psathyropus, and since that name is masculine, the "-a" on the epithet should properly be changed to "-us". The P. mysoreana version seems to be more commonly used, however.
Rubus cockburnianus Hemsl. (white-stemmed bramble) was supposed to honor the Cockburn family.
Silybum (milk thistle)
Soranus Rafinesque, 1815 (fish)
Texananus (leafhopper)
Turdus (robin and thrush)

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