SciSun: The Name’s the Thing   1 comment

In honor of the upcoming Fourth of July Holiday – this Wednesday, on July 4! – we thought we’d talk a bit about some plants and animals that are named America – or at least have the Latin word for ‘america’ in their names.

First you have to understand all species have two – and sometimes more – names. The common names you usually hear are things like ‘Raccoon’ and ‘Pine Tree’ and ‘Bison’. You might also hear Bison called ‘Buffalo’, or ‘North American Bison’, which are names that all mean the same big, shaggy, prairie-living, grass-eating animal; but can be confusing if someone who knows ‘Bison’ hears someone else call it ‘Buffalo’ (or if the only big, shaggy, prairie-living, grass-eating animal they know is their strange cousin from Kansas). So almost three hundred years ago – in the first half of the 1700’s – a scientist named Carl Linnaeus created the binomialsystem that would identify every every plant, animal, and all life by two names – the specific Genus and Species that is unique to that type of life, and immediately identifies each type of living thing as being different than any other type. This system was based on Latin, as that was considered the most respected language of that time, and everyone who was anyone spoke, read, and understood that ancient language even though it hadn’t been in common use for thousands of years. Over time, a third name was found to be sometimes necessary in the system and was added as a subspecies. This is when a new type of life is discovered that is very close, but not quite the same, as another species. This is just a way of identifying everything as special and unique. (Carl Linnaeus also invented the notecard system to index all these names and fit them into the best categories. He probably would have loved database software).

While Genus names are more or less set – as well as other, more general identifying names such as Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, and Family of all living things – Species and sub-species are pretty much open to anything. You’ll find these named after the person who discovered the type of life, or the place it was first found, or it’s relationship to other life, or it’s color, or a name someone wants to commemorate, or just about anything else. And that’s where we find plants and animals with the name ‘america’, or some form of that name, as the Species. As you’d suspect, all are native to either North or South America; and here are some that can naturally be found throughout the United States:

Pronghorn WIKIAntilocapra americana is the Pronghorn Antelope; although it’s not really an antelope (see how those Latin names are coming in handy already?), but the last remaining member of a Family of deer-like animals that went extinct over 10,000 years ago. Living on the dry grasslands of the West, the Pronghorn is one of the fastest animals of North America, running at over 50 miles per hour!

Pine marten USFS

Martes americana, the American marten, is a little weasel. No, really, it belongs to the Weasel family and can also be called the Pine Marten. Found in forests throughout Canada and in the Western US as far south as parts of California, ‘Piney’ here isn’t stopped by snow, ice or other harsh conditions and in some areas is moving into new territory where they’d been considered lost.

American Cockroach WIKI

Periplaneta americana, the American cockroach. In it’s natural environment – which is the damp undergrowth of the forest, not our homes – the cockroach helps maintain the natural balance by eating decomposed plants and animals. Other than that, we have nothing to say.

American carrion bettle  OUNecrophila americanaAmerican Carrion Beetle. Another natural-waste-and-litter eater. Actually that’s what a lot of insects do. Somebody has to.

American creeper  USFSCerthia americana, the Brown Creeper is not an insect, but a little brown and white songbird with a TMI name. Although they do creep carefully along the trunks of trees looking for insects among the folds and breaks of the tree bark. In the past these un-assuming birds were found throughout most of the forests of the US and Canada, but in recent years they are most abundant in the Northwestern US, particularly Washington and Alaska, and Canada.

Redhead duck USFSAythya americana is the Redhead. Not that cute guy/gal down the block, but a medium-sized diving duck from the marshes and ponds of the midwest and west. While we think they look rather elegant with their red heads and black and grey bodies, the females have been known to lay their eggs in other ducks’ nests, so mother duck won’t have the responsibility of taking care of her babies; and the male ducks usually leave the females each year and migrate hundreds of miles away to larger, and nicer, areas of water. Not that we’re judging or anything.

American elm  WIKIUlmusamericana, the American elm, is a deciduous tree (every winter it looses it’s leaves) found only in the Eastern, and into the Midwestern US. And a little part of southern Canada. Extremely strong, it can survive temperatures to 44 degrees below zero, and live over 100 years. Unfortunately in the last 50 years an elm-specific disease has assaulted these trees, leaving what’s estimated as only one in every 100,000 trees untouched. Non-native insects are also on the attack, leaving areas once filled with the mighty elm devastated, and tree experts working hard to save the remaining forests.

American beautyberry USFWSCallicarpa americana is known as American beautyberry and French mulberry. Someone was very confused with the common names. A medium-sized shrub native to the Southern US and even into islands of the Caribbean, ‘Beauty’ produces large amounts of purple berries enjoyed by animals and birds. People have learned to make jellies and tea of the berries (which, when fresh, leave a bad aftertaste to humans), and there are many folk-remedies and handed-down-by-grandma uses for the plant.

These are only a very few of the many native plants, animals, and other life that has ‘america’ in it’s name, and you might see in a park, meadow, or forest near you! And we didn’t even mention the Red, White and Bluebird.

http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/quickref/general/scientific_names.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/taxonomy

http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/linnaeus.html

One response to “SciSun: The Name’s the Thing

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  1. Thanks for highlighting animals and vegetation with America in the names. Fun!

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