What’s in a Name? Sometimes More Than Meets the Eye
Jokes, puns, even insults when it comes to deciding what to call newly discovered species, scientists don’t always go by the book
In the 1750s, the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus devised a system for naming species, and zoologists have been fooling around with it ever since. There's a beetle named Agra vation and a spider named Draculoides bramstokeri. There's a fish named after Frank Zappa, a crustacean genus named for Godzilla, and a fly called Dicrotendipes thanatogratus after the Grateful Dead. At least one entomologist named a genus of bugs after his mistress. A well-known American entomologist, who was also a bigamist, named a couple of species for his two wives.
Having scientific colleagues name a new species after you can be an honor or an insult, however unintended. The genus name Dyaria was coined by an amateur lepidopterist who thought he was honoring a colleague named Dyar.
The potential for bizarre and jokey nomenclature is almost unlimited. A Smithsonian researcher estimates that there are 30 million species on earth, almost all of them insects in need of names.