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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: taxonomy (3)

A species by any other name...

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
8 June 2012
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Comments (0)

Strict rules govern the naming of animal species. You can't just discover a new ant or dinosaur and name it whatever you like; the name must be unique to that critter. Knowledge of Latin is handy too, since many names describe some feature of the animal in this ancient language, and all of them must adhere to its grammar. Proper identification and naming of species are important so that we all know we're talking about the same thing, and species names also describe the evolutionary relationships between different animals.

Despite the stringent rules, or perhaps because of them, scientists can be cheeky when they're choosing names for new species. You may have heard about the horsefly named after Beyonce because of its golden bottom, or the fungus Spongiforma squarepantsii named after a well-known cartoon sea sponge. I asked the staff of MV's Sciences Department for their favourite examples of the genre.

The palaeontologists kicked things off – in fact inspired this post – with Tom Rich's tale of Kryoryctes cadburyi, an ancient echidna named in honour of a chocolate reward promised to whoever found a mammal bone at the Dinosaur Cove dig. The extinct Cambrian mollusc, Yochelcionella daleki, suggested by David Holloway, was clearly named by a sci-fi fan, but Erich Fitzgerald volunteered an extant species. He suggested the Fossa, a Madagascan civet-like carnivore with a rather convoluted arrangement in its nether regions. Its genus, Cryptoprocta, is named for the pouch that not only conceals its anus but secretes a foul-smelling fluid; perhaps this is the inspiration for its species name, ferox, or 'ferocious'.

Fossa specimen Mounted specimen of a Fossa, Cryptoprocta ferox, on display at Melbourne Museum.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Marine biologists are repeat offenders, it seems: Gary Poore named two new squat lobsters Uroptychus cyrano and U. pinocchio for their long noses, while Mark Norman and Julian Finn were clearly dazzled by the Indonesian octopus Wunderpus photogenicus when they named it. Robin Wilson suggested the short-lived but glorious former name of a particular clam. He says that Eames and Wilkins saw fit to name it Abra cadabra but "some subsequent taxonomist has spoiled the fun by moving it into another genus, and it is now known as Theora cadabra." The magic is gone, but it seems the taxonomy battles are not over yet: others call this species Theora mesopotamica.

For more fun with puns and facetious species, see the comprehensive collection of curioustaxonomy.net. Which is your favourite? 

Links:

Infosheet: Blandowski's bad name

Port Phillip Taxonomic Toolkit

Author
by Blair
Publish date
15 March 2012
Comments
Comments (5)

Hey check out www.portphillipmarinelife.net.au – the new Port Phillip Taxonomic Toolkit website we launched this week! It's a joint initiative between the Department of Sustainability and Environment, and us at the museum.

Juvenile Scalyfin, jellyfish and biscuit stars in Port Phillip Bay. Left to right: Juvenile Scalyfin, jellyfish and biscuit stars in Port Phillip Bay.
Image: Julian Finn | Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

There is a spectacular gallery of over 2,000 photographs that make it the site to surf if you don't want to get wet this dive season. And if you do get wet, then it's the one place to learn about the cool stuff you've seen underwater.

Have a click around and find your favourite pretty fin or an awesome octopus!

albatross, isopod and Moray Eel from Port Phillip Bay. Left to right: albatross, isopod and moray eel from Port Phillip Bay.
Image: Julian Finn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The site has 1,001 species from Port Phillip Bay with more to come in 2012. There are frowning faces of stargazers to picture-perfect blue devils, fish that walk instead of swim, cannibalistic sea cucumbers, and seahorses that eat lunch like sucking a hotdog out of a roll. They're all part of our truly amazing local marine life.

The Port Phillip Taxonomic Toolkit is primarily an identification and information resource for scientists and marine enthusiasts, but the images provide some fun and education for all audiences. There are also interactive menus to identify selected species as well as descriptions of characters that make the animals unique.

The project is funded by the Department of Sustainability and Environment's Seagrass and Reefs Program for Port Phillip Bay and will be completed later this year.

Blue ringed octopus project

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
16 June 2011
Comments
Comments (4)

Poking around in Victorian coastal tide pools is good fun. You can feel the sucker feet of a sea star as it walks over your hand, or watch crabs scuttle about grazing on algae. But one thing you should never do – and I remember being told this from a very young age – is bother a blue-ringed octopus. Blue-ringed octopuses (genus Hapalochlaena) are some of the most venomous marine animals in the world yet we don’t know much about them.

Southern Blue-ringed Octopus Southern Blue-ringed Octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa) photographed in Port Phillip Bay during the day.
Image: Julian Finn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

There are currently four species of blue-ringed octopus recognised but MV curator Dr Julian Finn reckons he’s about to change this. He has just received a three-year grant from the Australian Biological Resources Study to sort out how many species there are worldwide. From his preliminary studies, he estimates there could be closer to 20 species with over half of these living in Australian waters.

With joint investigators Dr Mark Norman, Head of Sciences, Dr Jan Strugnell from La Trobe University, and Professor Chung Cheng Lu of National Chung Hsing University in Taiwan, Julian will use comparative anatomy and molecular techniques to confirm how many species there are. He’ll map the distribution of each species and produce an identification key to help others identify blue-ringed octopuses.

Blue-ringed octopus Southern Blue-ringed Octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa) photographed in Port Phillip Bay at night.
Image: Julian Finn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Julian will also assay the venom of each species to determine which are the most toxic to humans. The bite of a blue-ringed octopus delivers a hit of tetrodotoxin which is found in the octopus’s saliva. Tetrodotoxin has a devastating effect on the nerve system; it blocks sodium channels and causes breathing difficulties, numbness and paralysis. There is no antivenom and without immediate medical intervention, the risk of death is high. Thanks to this project, we’ll better understand one of our most notorious marine creatures and have more information to assist with treating blue-ringed octopus bites.

webJKF_2005_06896.jpg Southern Blue-ringed Octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa) photographed in Port Phillip Bay at night.
Image: Julian Finn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

Australian Venom Research Unit: blue-ringed octopus

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