What are your favorite scientific names?

Sure, the purpose of scientific names is to provide taxonomic clarity, but some of them just sound awesome. This post was inspired by the Australian crayfish, Cherax destructor, which sounds like a comic supervillian. (Thanks to RickMac for pointing me its way – yabbies indeed.) Crepidula fornicata is simply descriptive at what those slipper shells of loose moral fiber spend their WHOLE LIVES doing, while Thetys vagina was clearly named by someone who’d spent a looooong time at sea. And I have a weakness for terrible puns – it was a sad day when the clam Abra cadabra was put into the genus Theora.

This appears to be a favorite topic for scientists wasting time on the internet – Al has a list of his favorites at his old digs (La cerverza the moth is AWESOME!) and Chuck includes more vertebrates on his (how DID the menhaden rate “tyrannus” as a species name?!). There’s tons more odd and amusing names at the Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature website.

What are your favorites?

27 Replies to “What are your favorite scientific names?”

  1. Oedipus complex the salamander has always been my favorite :)

    ..and aren’t there a group of congeneric beetles with species names in honor of The Ramones?

  2. Sometimes when I need a name for a non-player character in my undersea D&D game, I turn to liveaquaria.com and look at the scientific names of whatever is on sale. Ciliaris the reef hag comes to mind – holacanthus ciliaris: Queen Angelfish.

    I also revamped the locathah race to have a caste system denoted by coloration like the larger angelfish. Imperator, Queen, Majectic, etc.

  3. Desulforudis audaxviator: sulfur-loving bold traveler. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desulforudis_audaxviator
    It was discovered miles underground in the waters of a diamond mine. It’s known for existing completely disconnected from the sun and photosynthesis. It’s a cool cool microbe. Second part of the name (audax viator)is from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

    Second place: Deinococcus radiodurans, another incredible microbe with the most unusual DNA repair system in the world.

  4. I ate lots of (diver caught)cherax destructor while on holiday in Australia & Fiji. They are delicious!

  5. I’m sort of a fan of Cyclopterus lumpus, myself – lumpfish are super cool & weird. It has a kind of gladiator ring to it, doesn’t it?

  6. Crepidula fornicata (the common slipper shell) because, yeah okay technically “fornicata” describes the curved shape of the shell, but every invert bio student I’ve ever met also uses it as a mnemonic for the fornicatin’ lifestyle these guys/gals employ.

    Phallus drewesii (a type of stinkhorn mushroom) – http://species.asu.edu/2010_species07 a 2-inch mushroom, named in honor of herpotologist Dr. Robert Drewes

  7. There are lots of birds that say their own common names — cuckoo, chiffchaff etc — but the corncrake says its own latin name, Crex crex.

  8. I’m also a fan of Gorilla Gorilla, and I like Onchocerca Volvulus (nematode that causes river blindness)and theobroma cacao (chocolate – “nectar of the gods”). There are some great butterfly names, like Morpho Montezuma and Morpho Amphitrion.

  9. Here are two of my favourites. Both fun to say, and both trigger the fantasy: Gorgonocephalus caputmedusae and Nanaloricus mysticus. The organisms are equally cool. Oh, and here’s another favourite: Aporrhais pespelicani :-)

  10. Well, someone beat me to Vampyroteuthis infernalis, so I guess I’ll have to find some others.

    My personal favorite is Cnidoscolus stimulosus, the stinging nettle (well, what Americans call stinging nettle anyway, it isn’t a true nettle, but you won’t care about taxonomy when you touch it). The name translates to “feels like you’ve been stung by a whip”. That just feels appropriate.

    But, I can’t go without mentioning that a number of dragonflies (and some butterflies) have the species name “longipennis”, which doesn’t mean what you think it does. It actually means “long wing”. Seriously. Yes, that’s what it means. I swear.

  11. From May Berenbaum’s Buzzwords:

    “For example, G.W. Kirkaldy was criticized for frivolity by the Zoological Society of London in 1912 [for] unobtrusively bestowing upon a series of hemipterans, or true bugs, the generic names of Ochisme, Polychisme, Nanichisme, Marichisme, Dolichisme, and Florichisme. Presumably, eight years elapsed before anyone in the Zoological Society actually pronounced these names out loud and realized that the series provided a plea for osculatory adventures.”

    See also Christopher Taylor’s Catalogue of Organisms:


    That’s probably the funniest.

  12. I am going to use the phrase “osculatory adventures” ALL THE TIME from now on. C’mon baby, just one little osculatory adventure?

  13. There are so many great marine names, many of which have been mentioned here already, but the American plains bison, Bison bison bison, has an elementary appeal for me.

  14. Distortio anus, the name prompts a childish giggle every time; though the shell is far more beautiful than it’s name implies. I also love the genus name Ittibittium (from the family Cerithidae, horn shells).

  15. Since someone else has used the a-word, I’ll quote Christopher Taylor in full here:

    “Sometimes when naming a species, it pays to be careful…

    In 1954, Roewer described a new species of harvestman named Metagagrella mysoreana (so named, I assume, because it came from Mysore). Metagagrella has since been synonymised with the older genus name Psathyropus, but most of the appropriate new combinations have not yet appeared in print. I was just entering in names for the Psathyropus section of the Palpatores nomenclator, which requires me to form said new combinations. However, because Psathyropus is a masculine name, I had to correct species name genders.


    Psathyropus mysoreanus.”

    from – http://coo.fieldofscience.com/2008/08/ye-gods-im-immature.html

    P.S. I had no idea genus-species names required gender agreement. One learns so much fascinating stuff on the internet.

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