Naming New Critters

A new bird was found in Peru recently.

I know that you get to name the critter if you discover it, this one is Capito fitzpatricki so I would guess someone named Fitzpatrick discovered it. Could he have named it Capito Fred if he had wanted to? Can you name it something silly like Capito Whirligig or does the second name always have to be given a faux latin sound by sticking an ‘i’ at the end?

In the taxonomical world, it’s considered the height of bad form to name something after yourself when you describe a new species. In this case, John Fitzpatrick had nothing to do with the discovery of the bird. The discoverers named it after him because of his huge contributions to Peruvian ornithology, including the discovery of many other new species.

If someone is to be honored for the discovery of a new species, they will not be an author or co-author on the formal description. Instead this will be done by friends or colleagues.

I don’t believe there are any formal restrictions on scientific names, although they normally do follow the convention of taking a Latin or Latinized Greek form. There is a hummingbird named Amazilia edward, for example. And people do publish joke names. I recall hearing of a Cornell entomologist who liked the local Genessee brand of beer, who called one species of bug he described genesseebea (giving it a New York pronunciation).

Ah =)

Though I still find it stupid to just stick a letter at the end of something to make it sound latin …

Anybody ever named a star George?

I will name him George.

Well, William Herschel named a planet George.

“Adding a vowel” doesn’t make a word faux-Latin. Genera are named normally by combining Latin or Greco-Latin elements. Species may be identified by relevant characteristics, size, in honor of an expert in that particular element of zoology/botany (set in the genitive), or by location. If the surname or location already has a Latin name, then it will be used: the German surname Neumann is Grecicized as Neander, so “Neumann’s thrush” might be Turdus neandri. A thrush common around Manchester might be Turdus mancuniensis, from Mancumium for Manchester plus the -ensis ending meaning roughly “prevalent in this area.” Where a Latin form does not exist, the name is cast into Latin structure to identify the proper form to use. The common opossum is Didelphis virginianus because it was first discovered in Virginia; one of the ground sloths is Megalonyx jeffersoni after Thomas Jefferson, who first described its fossils.

In a playful mood I once identified Rudolph TRNR as Rangifer tarandus var. erythrorhynchus, “having a crimson muzzle.”

More than you ever wanted to know about how to form a scientific name for a species named after someone.


Names of genera of animals and plants are nouns in the singular and have gender [are either masculine or feminine or neuter]. You [the taxonomist] must determine [find out from previous usage] the gender of a generic name within which you want to create a new species-group name. A species-group name is the 2nd word in the name of a species (a binomen) or the 3rd in the name of a subspecies (a trinomen).

GENERAL RULE: Article 31 (a): A species-group name formed from a personal name may be either a noun in the genitive case [1], a noun in apposition [2], or an adjective [3] or participle [4].

[1] Article 31 (a) (ii): A species-group name, if a noun in the genitive case formed directly from a modern personal name, is to be formed by adding to the stem [li] of that name -i if the personal name is that of a man, -orum if of men or of man (men) and woman (women) together, -ae if of a woman, and -arum if of women.[/li][/QUOTE]

etc, etc, etc.

For a while an extinct species of snake was known as Montypythonoides riversleighensis. It was clearly a gag based on Monty Python. Biologists being the stuffy type eventually renamed it Morelia riversleighensis.

(I think it was actually renamed after more fossils were found and it turned out to be an already named species)

On the other hand, there is still a species of louse named after Gary Larson.

Animals named after celebrities.

These include:

Fungus beetles named after Richard Nixon, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Darth Vader (in this case, not intended as a compliment).

A fly with a golden rear end named after Beyonce.

A spider named after Frank Zappa because it has a mark on its abdomen resembling his moustache.

A sponge named Spongiforma squarepantsii.
A colleague of mine named a snake eel after Zorro because it has a z-shaped mark on its cheek.

Several years ago I participated in discovering and describing a new species of bird from Gabon. We collected several of the specimens in Monts Doudou National Park. We hated our camp there because it was in the middle of a swamp and it rained every day during the three weeks we were there, so we nicknamed it “Deep Doudou.” We almost named the bird “bathydoudouensis,” meaning “living in deep Doudou,” but at the last minute decided to call it something more prosaic.

Being a native of New York, my favorite name of this kind is noveboracensis, “from New York.”

That article missed the fossil named after Mark Knopfler.

Rather than just attaching a Latin ending to a name, a biologist who was a fan of the Grateful Dead named a midge “Dicrotendipes thanatogratus”.