17 June 2006

Taxonomic romance

Blepharipoda occidentalisIn our graduate evolution class yesterday, my colleague Anita revealed that there is a group of beetles named after her.

I was instantly jealous.

By way of a few quick reminders, the traditional method of classifying organisms is to have seven levels: Kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species. The names have to be in Latin or Greek, although "latinizing" names or words from other languages is allowed. Ths person who describes a group gets to name it. Names are often descriptive of the organism's look or living space. For instance, take the case of the sand crab Blepharipoda occidentalis (pictured), which I studied for my doctoral work. Blepharipoda, the genus name, means "eyelash feet," which refers to the fringes of hairs (setae) that line the beautifully curving leg tips (dactyls) that they use for digging into sand. They live on the west coast of North America, and their specific name, occidentalis, reflects this, as it means "western."

Taxonomists are free, however, to name species and genera and so forth whatever they want. Locally, when my colleague Bob Edwards described a new species of fish, he named it Gambusia clarkhubbsi after a Texas ichthyologist, Clark Hubbs.

But you don't need to be a scientist to get a species named after you (though it probably helps). Returning to sand crabs for a second, Chris Boyko works on the taxonomy of sand crabs like Blepharipoda. He's also a fellow comics enthusiast (loves Chester Gould), and a man who made my writing life hell by splitting one sand crab family into two, making it much harder to describe some work I did. Be that as it may. He named one sand crab after The Simpsons creator Matt Groening: Albunea groeningi. He named another after Peanuts character Lucy (infamous for her "crabby" disposition): Lepidopa luciae.

Anita got a genus of beetle named after her because, well, she happened to be dating a beetle taxonomist at the time.

I'm so jealous.

I have genus envy.

(Yeah, that's right, I wrote this whole long blog entry just to make that one lousy pun.)

1 comment:

Svetla said...

Heh, you don't expect a comment on this blog entry, do you? But you deserve my big cordial THANK YOU for the explanation of the genus and species names of Blepharipoda occidentalis. Don't be that jealous about taxonomy, I am sure all taxonomists are mad men. They just dig and dig into details and invent more and more complicated and senseless taxonomy. Instead of studying biology.