The wattle pig

I avoid common names of critters, if possible, as they tend to change from place to place, whereas the scientific names are fixed (until the taxonomists start having arguments, bless them). But until you get used to them, scientific names can be a mouthful (I thank my Latin teachers at high school plus my zoology training for not having too many problems). And sometimes the common names are delicious.

There’s the spiny lumpsucker, the pleasing fungus beetle, the pink fairy armadillo, the raspberry crazy ant, the satanic leaf-tailed gecko, the hellbender, the star-nosed mole, the blob fish, the strange-tailed tyrant – if you google these names, you’ll see that they are pretty descriptive.

And take this weevil, probably a species of Leptopius, called the wattle pig, as it feeds on wattle leaves. According to George Hangay and Paul Zborowski’s A Guide to the Beetles of Australia, CSIRO 2010 (hello, George!), not all Leptopius are associated with wattles.

It was on the clothes line at the back of my house. Even a chore like hanging up washing can be interesting if you keep your eyes open.


Leptopius species

Beetles are often hard to see and I’d rather see them alive, but sometimes one can marvel at exhibits in museums,  like the one below in the Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston.

Beetle display, Launceston Museum

Beetle display, Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston, Tasmania

Scientific names often describe the creature’s features in Latin, but scientists do have a sense of humour and there are some pretty strange scientific names out there. The names all have to conform with the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. Australian Geographic magazine has an article on some of them: Gelae bean (say it out loud – a small, shiny beetle), Macrostyphlus frodo and M. gandalf (beetles again), Ytu brutus (and again, for all you Latinophiles), and Agra vation, Agra cadabra and Agra phobia (all beetles). Lest you get the idea that entomologists are more fun than other scientists (though they may well be), there’s Ittibitium (a genus of very small molluscs), Wunderpus photogenicus (an octopus), Ba humbugi (a Pacific island snail), Han solo (a trilobite, extinct), Arthurdactylus conandoylensis (a pterosaur, extinct) and Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi (a spider). There are many other examples, but you get the general idea.

Usually it is the describing scientist who creates the name but, as the Smithsonian says, if you want one named after yourself:

You can discover one and name it yourself.

A colleague, friend or family member might have enough new species lying around and be willing to name one after you.

If you have enough money, you could pay an institution or charity to give a species your name. Scripps Institution of Oceanography [in 2008] offered naming rights for several ocean species, starting from the rock-bottom price of US$5,000.

Of course, if you’re famous, a scientist may honor you. But naming a creature after a person seems to lack a certain amount of creativity. After all, the rules for naming species are surprisingly open: the name must not be offensive, must be spelled in only the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet and may be derived from any language. In fact, a name need not be derived from anything at all; the rules state that an arbitrary combination of letters is also perfectly acceptable. (In contrast, astronomical bodies—like stars, asteroids and planets—have strict naming conventions overseen by committees.) So why shouldn’t a biologist have some fun when naming something she discovered?

Why not, indeed?

This entry was posted in Animals on land, Insects and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The wattle pig

  1. Kath says:

    I found this very interesting, and a load of fun. Thank you.

    • Joy Window says:

      Glad you enjoyed it, Kath. I think I’m on the side of a more traditional naming approach, but I’ll never get the chance to name anything, so it’s a moot point. Oh, I did name a juvenile spotted-tail quoll in Tasmania “Macbeth” as its official common name, so I suppose that counts for something 🙂

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