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The Dark Side of Taxonomy: Part One

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

By Heather Soulen

In the spirit of the Halloween season, we’ve decided to showcase some of the more darkly inspired scientific names. But first, what exactly is a scientific name, and how did it come to be? In the 18th century, Carl Linnaeus developed a hierarchical naming system known as Linnaean classification for categorization of organisms. As part of his classification system, Linnaeus introduced binomial nomenclature, a formal system for giving organisms a two-part scientific name. The first part of the name is a word that identifies the genus to which a species belongs. The second part of the name is a word that identifies a species within a genus. Scientific names are often in Latin, Greek or some other ancient or classical language, and may reflect some special aspect or feature of that organism. For example, an organism with stripes, bars or a mottled appearance may have a species name of variegatus, Latin for variegated.

However, some scientific names have Latin and Greek words that are less innocuous. Some words conjure up images of terror and the occult. When whispered, the names seem to slither like a snake over the tongue – sending chills down spines and making hairs on the back of the neck rise like ghosts from a grave. This week we delve into science’s darker and more twisted scientific names.

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