New Species of Plants and Animals Discovered

Controversial Species Names in Taxonomy


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taxonomy species name

Central Idea

  • The field of taxonomy, which involves naming and classifying living beings, is currently engaged in a heated discussion regarding the renaming of species with objectionable scientific names.
  • These names often stem from problematic individuals associated with slavery, racism, derogatory terms, and racial slurs.
  • The debate has gained prominence in recent years, particularly in the wake of movements like Black Lives Matter, which seeks to address systemic racism and dismantle symbols of oppression.

Controversial Naming Practices

(1) Species Named after Controversial Figures:

  • Anophthalmus hitleri: The blind beetle named after Adolf Hitler by an entomologist who admired him gained popularity among Neo-Nazis, leading to its near-extinction.
  • Uta stansburiana: The lizard named after Howard Stansbury, known for his involvement in the massacre of Timpanogos Native Americans.
  • Hibbertia scandens: The plant named after George Hibbert, a prominent member of the pro-slavery and anti-abolition lobby.

(2) Species Named with Derogatory Terms:

  • Hottentotta tamulus scorpion: The use of “Hottentot” as a derogatory term for Indigenous Black people in Africa.
  • Rauvolfia caffra: The quinine tree named with an offensive term considered hate speech against Black communities in South Africa.

Rules and International Bodies

  • Nomenclature Codes: International bodies such as ICZN, ICNafp, ICNB, and ICTV govern the naming of animals, plants, bacteria, and viruses, respectively.
  • Validity and Publication: New names must be published in openly distributed publications and accompanied by detailed descriptions of typical specimens.
ICZN: International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature

ICNafp: International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants

ICNB: International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria

ICTV: International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses

Scientific Naming Process

  • Two-part Scientific Names: Each species has two scientific names, with the first denoting the genus and the second identifying the species within the genus. Both names are italicized.
  • Naming Conventions: Names are often derived from Latin or Greek, reflecting distinctive features or characteristics of the species.

Challenges in Changing Offensive Names

  • Limited Appetite for Change: International committees show little inclination to engage in debates on potentially offensive names, prioritizing stability and universality.
  • Criteria for Name Change: The rules state that name changes should only occur with profound taxonomic knowledge or to rectify names conflicting with established rules.

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