Scientific names of note

The scientific naming system used for plants and animals allows for flexibility that occasionally produces curious results. For example, in March 2009, a new species of whitebeam tree discovered in North Devon was named Sorbus admonitor, or ‘No Parking Whitebeam’, because of the ‘No Parking’ sign nailed to the tree for many years (admonitor is Latin for ‘admonish’). Other unusual recent species names include:

Danionella dracula: a tiny transparent fish discovered in Burma and documented in 2009; named after Count Dracula, because of pieces of bone that poke through its mouth like fangs. Caloplaca obamae: lichen discovered in California and documented in 2009; named for President Obama, to show appreciation for his ‘support of science and science education’. Histiophryne psychedelica: frogfish discovered in Indonesia and documented in 2009, named for its vibrant peach-and-white stripes and erratic swimming style. Diamphipnoa colberti: stonefly found in Chile and documented in 2008; named after comedian Stephen Colbert*.

* In April 2009, US comedian Stephen Colbert’s name was the winning entry in an online poll held by NASA to name a new room at the International Space Station. Despite the legions of fans who voted for Colbert, NASA retained the right to make the final pick, and chose the somewhat more banal runner-up ‘Tranquility’. However, NASA gamely agreed to name a new treadmill at the Space Station the ‘Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill’ – or, COLBERT.

© Ben Schott. 2010 Schott’s Almanac