Taxonomy is the science of defining and naming groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics, and the practice and science of classification of things or concepts, including the principles that underlie such classification.
It is also one of the few chances scientists get to actually inject humor into the published literature, and it’s a permanent form of humor, raising a chuckle each time the species’ name comes up. A few examples of this humor are Abra cadabra, Pieza kake, and Ytu brutus. If those interest you, check out this list, but beware, it includes some 12-year old boy body function humor.
If you’re going to be responsible for determining scientific classification, you may as well have fun with it. For instance, apopyllus now is a type of ground spider. For those with severe arachnophobia, this could certainly qualify as the end of the world.
Neal Luit Evenhuis is an American scientist, the Senior Research Entomologist at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii. Evenhuis has described over 500 species of insects since 1976, and is known both for his research and peculiar binomial names. Binomial nomenclature is a formal system of naming species of living things by giving each a name composed of two parts, both of which use Latin grammatical forms, although they can be based on words from other languages.
In the entomological community, Evenhuis is also known for his sense of humor. After identifying a bombyliid from the genus Phthiria in 1985, he decided to name it Phthiria relativitae as a pun on “theory of relativity.” In order to ensure publication of the name in a scientific journal, and thus its acceptance, while avoiding criticism from English-speaking scientists, he had to submit it to a Polish journal.
In 2002, he named a genus of extinct mythicomyiids Carmenelectra in honour of the model Carmen Electra’s “splendid” body. The same year, he described Pieza kake, Pieza pie and Pieza deresistans, as well as Reissa roni (named after Rice-A-Roni). In 2013, he named a new species of fly from French Polynesia as Campsicnemus popeye for its resemblance with the cartoon character Popeye in having swollen forearms.
If you had the opportunity to name a new species, what ironic or humorous reference would you make?
Melody K. Smith
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