What’s in a Name? A Year in Taxonomy at the Canadian Museum of Nature

Taxonomy is the core activity in the Centre for Species Discovery and Change at the Canadian Museum of Nature. It is the science of discovering, naming and classifying plant, animal and mineral species. And in 2015, museum staff described 34 new species, and some, in turn, had species named after them.

Four underwater images of colonies of a giant file clam.

In situ images of giant file clams, Acesta cryptadelphe. This new species of giant file clam found in deepwater canyons off Canada’s East Coast was described by the museum’s Curator of Invertebrates, Dr. Jean-Marc Gagnon. Image: © Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Discoveries of new species are made by studying collections or through fieldwork conducted by museum staff across Canada and internationally. Specimens are studied for morphological, molecular or crystallographic differences from known species that demonstrate that the species is indeed new to science. This can be a laborious process, but after something is recognized as new the fun part begins: the species must then be given a unique scientific name.

A man collects insects.

Museum entomologist Dr. Bob Anderson, shown collecting insects in the highlands of Guatemala, has identified numerous new species of weevils, and has even had weevils named after him. Image: Jose Monzon Sierra © Jose Monzon Sierra.

Generally these names reflect some distinct morphological feature of the species, such as being large (‘grandis’), being red (‘rufus’) or some other characteristic that separates them from their close relatives. Some scientists like to use the geographic occurrence of the species in the name, leading to names such as ‘canadensis’, ‘brasiliensis’ or ‘manitobaite’.

Others, perhaps hoping to capitalize on pop culture and social media, name animal or plant species after famous personalities (real or fictional), musicians, politicians, actors or even characters in famous films (e.g., Agra schwarzeneggeri, Agra katewinsletae, Trigonopterus chewbacca, Scaptia beyonceae, Aegrotocatellus jaggeri, Agathidium bushi and Phthitia mulroneyi). But this won’t happen for minerals as international rules for mineral naming prohibits the use of pop culture references; rigid rules are set to avoid unwelcome commercial pressure on the naming of species.

Three views of a fossil fish.

Cumbaaichythes oxyrhynchus, the new genus and species of Cretaceous fossil fish named after Canadian Museum of Nature Research Associate Stephen L. Cumbaa (scale bar = 5 mm). Image: Alison M. Murray © Alison M. Murray.

Lastly, and the subject of the discussion here, are species named after people, or patronyms. Although children, spouses, other family members and friends can be recognized, most common patronyms honour a colleague for his or her contribution to the discovery and description of the species, or sometimes just to recognize an exemplary career.

Canadian Museum of Nature scientists are no exception and have long been so recognized, with a number of significant new patronyms just this past year.

Cumbaaichythes: Not only a new species, this fossil fish was given a new genus name by former museum Research Assistant Allison Murray. It recognizes retired Research Scientist Stephen L. Cumbaa, for “his significant contribution to our understanding of the Canadian fossil ichthyofauna.”;

Poulinea: Again a new genus, this gomphonemoid diatom that lives on marine turtles was recently named by a number of his international colleagues to honour museum Research Scientist Michel Poulin for his career work on marine diatoms;

A microscopic closeup of a marine diatom.

Poulinea lepidochelicola, a new genus and species of marine diatom collected from the carapace of an olive ridley sea turtle. It is named after Research Scientist Michel Poulin, who has collected and studied diatoms in both the Arctic and Antarctic. (scale bar = 10 µm) Image : Reprinted from Phytotaxa 233 (3): 236-250

Capoeta coadi and Alburnoides coadi: Two new species of fish named by Iranian colleagues after Brian W. Coad, Research Scientist in ichthyology;

Cheirimedon hendrycksi: A new species of Australian marine amphipod named after Ed Hendrycks, Research Assistant in marine invertebrates;

Caccobius genierorum, Korynetes genieri, Pedaria genierorum, and Platydema genieri: Four new beetle species named after François Génier, Collection Manager for insects;

Wattius andersoni: A new species of Cuban beetle named after Robert Anderson, Research Scientist in entomology; and

Pandeleteius anneae. A new species of West Indian weevil named after Research
Associate Anne T. Howden.

Two magnified views of a weevil.

Closeup of Pandeleteius anneae. Image: François Génier © Canadian Museum of Nature.

Museum mineralogists Scott Ercit, Joel Grice and Robert Gault are also among those recognized by having mineral species named in their honour: ercitite, griceite and gaultite, respectively. (New mineral species are more infrequently discovered than animal or plant species and patronyms are rare, used generally to recognize exemplary achievements over a long career.)

Congratulations to all those museum staff recognized with a patronym. However, we all still have a long way to go to surpass museum Research Associate Stewart B. Peck. There is a total approaching 110 patronyms recognizing him and his wife Jarmila, an accomplished paleoentomologist. In fact, the Pecks may be the most recognized living people as judged by species patronyms!

Patronyms aside, here are the 34 new species described by Canadian Museum of Nature staff for 2015:

Acesta cryptadelphe, a new species of giant file clam found in deep-water canyons and fjords off the Canadian East Coast described by Jean-Marc Gagnon, Curator, Invertebrates;

Ainoa bella and Trapelia stipitata, two new species of lichens from southeastern North America described by retired museum Research Associate Irwin Brodo;

Alectoria sorediosa and Chaenotheca balsamconensis, two new species of lichens from North America described by Troy McMullin, Research Scientist in Botany;

Mastogloia aegyptiaca, a new Red Sea fossil diatom species described by Michel Poulin, Research Scientist in Botany;

Orchestomerus eismani, Pandeleteius anneae, Pandeleteius metallicus and Pereskiophaga brasiliensis, four new species of weevils described by Research Scientist Robert Anderson;

Research Associate Andrew B.T. Smith described 10 new species of scarab beetles of the genus Phyllophaga from Cuba in one scienitific paper. In another, he described three new genera and 11 new species of southern South American scarab beetles;

Hydroterskite, a new mineral from St-Amable, Quebec and hydroxylgugiaite, a new mineral from Norway, both described by Joel Grice, Research Associate in Mineralogy.

A microscopic closeup of a new mineral species.

The new mineral species hydroxylgugiaite described by Joel Grice. Image: Joel Grice © Canadian Museum of Nature.

Albertosuchus knudsenii, a new species of late Cretaceous crocodilian, described by Xiao-Chun Wu, Research Scientist in Palaeobiology.

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