Monday, July 16, 2012

Nine Animals That Got Screwed When Scientific Names Were Handed Out (And Six That Didn’t)

Oddly, binomial nomenclature permits animals to have the same genus and species name but not plants. Don’t believe me? Look at every plant name ever. The ones that approach duplication fall just short: Ziziphus zizyphus, for example. Better known as the common jujube — and shouldn’t that be its own blog post? the differentiation between the jujubes that grows in the ground and the jujubes you buy at the movie theater concession stand? — its name is spelled differently at the genus and species levels for no reason other than to avoid tautonym status. Animals and animal-namers, however, don’t have to worry about repetition, and as a result, certain species sound horribly unimaginative. Others don’t. Yes, I have listed the ones that stood out to me.
Ones that sound boring and unimaginative:

Bison bison
Chinchilla chinchilla
Iguana iguana
Gorilla gorilla
Hyaena hyaena
Mops mops
Rattus rattus
Indicator indicator
Gecko gecko
And, conversely, those who sound unusually cool for having their exotic-seeming biological name repeated twice:

Vulpes vulpes
Lynx lynx
Bubo bubo
Cygnus cygnus 
Bombina bombina 
Mephitis mephitis

Of interest, if you have gotten this far: Some Hybrid Animal Math.


  1. Going to check out the math link!!

    1. The animals, they occasionally mate in entertaining combinations.

  2. Anonymous12:35 PM

    Did you know that the boa constrictor is the only living species whose common name is also its scientific name?

    1. I did not! That is kind of awesome. I wonder: Are there no-longer-living animals that share that honor?

    2. Anonymous7:05 AM

      Yes, Tyrannosaurus rex.

    3. Anonymous7:12 PM

      Technically you are talking about using both genus and species name in combination in common usage i.e. most people commonly say "Boa constrictor" to mean that species, not just Boa or constrictor. There are many examples of people using just a genus or species name to refer to a plant or animal e.g. capsicum or cantelope

  3. Another Drew2:29 PM

    What, no mention of the Linnaean classic volva volva volva?

    1. Did not know of this! And yikes. That is quite a name. Apt, too.

  4. Anonymous1:25 PM

    Missed my favourite - Gulo gulo

  5. Anonymous9:22 PM

    I have a list of more than 800 of these tautonyms (e.g., Bison bison) and near-tautonyms (Ajaia ajaja, the roseate spoonbill). There are quite a number of these where the genus name, the species name, and the English common name are the same. Besides the bison and the gorilla, there is Lynx lynx, the lynx.. There are are several dozen plants and animals whose genus name and species name are the same in two different languages, e.g., Ursus arctos, the brown bear ("bear" in Latin, "bear" in Greek.)