FUN: Taxonomists at Play

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Science  31 Jan 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5607, pp. 635
DOI: 10.1126/science.299.5607.635a

What do the Roman emperor Caligula, cartoonist Gary Larson, and tennis player Boris Becker have in common? All have species named for them. Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature, created by biologist and computer scientist Mark Isaak, unravels the etymology of hundreds of clever, silly, and weird scientific handles. For example, the creature that carries Larson's name is a louse, Strigiphilus garylarsoni, that nestles among an owl's feathers. There are trilobites that commemorate Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, and all four members of the punk band the Ramones: Mackenziurus johnnyi, M. joeyi, M. deedeei, and M. ceejayi. Groan-inspiring puns like Phthiria relativitae (a fly whose name sounds like “theory of relativity”) and Ytu brutus (a beetle) suggest that some taxonomists might be drinking out of the specimen bottles. Sometimes a scientific name even reveals juicy personal details. The British adventurer and ornithologist Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen bestowed some variant of “Theresa” on more than a dozen species or subspecies of birds to honor “a close ‘confidante’ 33 years younger than himself,” Isaak notes.∼misaak/taxonomy.html

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