Many of the world’s weird and wonderful species names have been determined by taxonomists but the reasons behind the names vary greatly. Some species names honour a great naturalist or explorer, others are in recognition of a particular individual dedicated to the conservation of a particular species, and some are purley named after someone the taxonomist was rather fond of!
‘-i’, ‘-ae’ and ‘-orum’
In taxonomy, when a species’ scientific name comes from the name of a person, the suffix ‘-i’ is attached for a male, ‘-ae’ for a female and ‘-orum’ for a couple.
Pere David’s deer
Father (‘Pere’ in French) David, was a Catholic missionary, zoologist and botanist who travelled to China and collected natural history specimens. On his travels he discovered, among many other species, the giant panda and Pere David’s deer, which were previously unknown in Europe. Pere David’s deer was presumably already extinct in the wild; however, Pere David observed the last remaining herd and inspired an unfortunately unsuccessful drive to bring them back from the brink of extinction.
Thomas Bewick was an English wood engraver who had an insatiable interest in ornithology. He created masterpieces detailing birds, which were carved onto wood, and then went on to write and illustrate the History of British Birds which was published in the early 1800’s. Bewick’s swan was named after him just after this death in 1828.
De Brazza was a French explorer who was an early coloniser of the Republic of the Congo. He is remembered by both the species de Brazza’s monkey and the capital city of Congo, Brazzaville, the name of which remains today as well as a monument in his honour.
The scientific name of the owl-faced guenon (Cercopithecus hamlyni) is derived from the eccentric animal dealer John. D. Hamlyn who first brought this species to London Zoo.
Charles Darwin lends his name to many species of animal and plant, including Darwin’s orchid, Chile Darwin’s frog, Darwin’s fox and Darwin’s finches. Darwin’s finches are a group of around 14 different finches all endemic to the Galapagos Islands, except for the Cocos finch, which lives on a small island 600 kilometres northeast called Cocos. These closely related birds show how natural selection can lead to the evolution of many different species from a single lineage. Darwin’s finches include the mangrove finch, large ground finch, warbler finch, vegetarian finch, sharp-beaked ground finch and many more.
Carl Linné, or Linnaeus, is often called the ‘father of modern taxonomy’ due to his invention of the modern system of identifying all species of plant, animal, fungus, single and simple multi-celled organisms and bacteria. This system of two words makes up the name of a species, or three for a subspecies, of which the first word usually describes a biological aspect of the species from a word derived from Latin or Greek. Many reptiles are named after Linnaeus as well as Linné’s two-toed sloth.
Spiders from Mars
Was it the bright yellow hair that prompted the naming of the David Bowie spider (Heteropoda davidbowie)?
Lemurs from Madagascar
The Bemahara woolly lemur (Avahi cleesei) is named after famous English actor John Cleese, due to his fondness for lemurs and efforts towards promoting their conservation.
What about me?
This proves there are many ways to have a species named after you, even without trekking through the deepest Indian rainforest to find one yourself!
With new species being found every day who will be honoured next? mulvanyae has a nice ring to it!
Let us know in the comments below if you can think of any good potential species names or people who deserve to have an animal or plant named after them.
Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Species Text Author Intern