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Nutty Nomenclature

Nutty Nomenclature

All species of organism are given their own specific name by the taxonomist who first describes them.  Every now and again the taxonomists allow themselves to have a little bit of fun.  This is our guide to some more mischievously named species.

Agra vation

Don’t get it? If you haven't got it by now it's really going to bug you.

What is it?
Actually it's a very non-aggravating beetle, just one of over 40,000 species found in the family Carabidae. With a bright metallic green back and rufous-coloured head it cuts a very fine figure. The carabid family also includes the bombadier beetle, famous for being able to shoot hot, poisonous chemicals from its backside when annoyed.

Where’s it found? In the Peruvian Amazon, not far from the borders with Brazil and Colombia.

When was it first named? 1983.

Who deserves the credit? Terry Erwin, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution. Not only has Doc Erwin discovered and named well over a thousand beetles, he turned conservation biology on its head when his research suggested that there were 30 million species in the world as opposed to the 1 million scientists had previously estimated.

Agra eowilsoni, illustration by George VenableIs there a picture? The fine looking fellow to the right is the closely related species Agra eowilsoni, named for the biologist E. O. Wilson. However, we've found no pictures of Agra vation as of yet. Other Agras that Erwin has named include: Agra cadabra, Agra katewinslettae, Agra memnon and Agra sasquatch & Agra yeti, both of which have big feet.

Sometimes you have to look a little further into the name as well: Agra dable (think Spanish), Agra lilu (think the Fifth Element), Agra eponine (think Les Miserables) and Agra tuitis (think a free lunch).

Another beetle named by Erwin delights under the name Pericompsus bilbo - it's short, fat and has hairy feet. The title image is yet another well-named carabid: Anthia sexguttata.

What's Next? Dr Erwin is still naming Agras left, right and centre.  Coming soon to a rainforest near you:
Agra phobia, Agra beegees, Agra culture and my personal favourite of them all: Agra pefruit.

Coming soon in Nutty Nomenclature
: Pieza rhea and Heerz lukenatcha. But for the time being here's a couple of bits in a similar vein:

Other regulars:
Monday: Phunny Phobias
Wednesday: Doctor Doctor
Thursday: Peculiar Periodicals
Friday: End of week timewasters

*Agra lilu has a bright red head and is therefore named after Milla Jovovich's character in the Luc Besson film The Fifth Element. (back)

*Eponine, is the name of the unfortunate street urchin in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, who, in the Broadway version of the story, personified tragic beauty. Such is the state of the tropical forests where these beetles live. (back)

Title image: School of Ecology and Conservation, University of Agricultural Sciences Bangalore Agra eowilsoni: George Venable/Smithsonian

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20 Jul 2017
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