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The Dark Side of Taxonomy: Part Two

Friday, October 30th, 2015

by Heather Soulen

Darker Still

Delving deeper into the dark side of taxonomy, we forge forth into the ether to uncover obscure and wickedly inspired scientific names. What’s in a scientific name? As described in The Dark Side of Taxonomy: Part One, some scientific names for organisms have dark and twisted origins. In part two of this three-part series, we peek behind the thin gauze-like veil, fearlessly sifting through time and lore to deliver a new collection of gruesome scientific names. Here we share ancient tales of Greek mythology, an Italian literary genius from the Middle Ages and the unforgiving Underworld.

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From the Bay of Bengal, a dinoflagellate makes its way to the Smithsonian

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

A photo of one end of the dinoflagellate Amphisolenia quadrispina.

A photo of one end of the dinoflagellate Amphisolenia quadrispina. Photo by Sharyn Hedrick

It’s a rare event when our phytoplankton taxonomist, Sharyn Hedrick, sees something new. She’s observed and photographed hundreds of species of dinoflagellates, diatoms, algae and the like. Phytoplankton are the microscopic organisms that float in the ocean’s photic zone where they can photosynthesize and become a source of food for other creatures in the food web.

It’s not an exaggeration to say Hedrick was ecstatic when she peered into her inverted phase contrast microscope and found Amphisolenia quadrispina floating in her sample. “For 20 years I’ve been hoping to see something like this,” she said. A. quadrispina has a unique long, thin shape that resembles a stick, more than it does other dinoflagellates. It’s huge too — between 600 to 700 microns, which is still smaller than the tip of a needle, but large by phytoplankton standards.
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