Bizarre Beetle Branding - Etymology meets Entomology Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Bizarre Beetle Branding - Etymology meets Entomology

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How Scientists have Fun Naming Things

Let's assume that you are omnipotent. You've just created life. So what do you want to call this living thing you've just brought into being? You scratch your head, at a loss. Naming things (taxonomy) can be extremely hard, can it not? Parents have problems enough deciding what to call their newborn, and entomologists1 have just as much trouble quickly thinking up some appropriate Latin name for the new species of insect they've only just found crawling over their boot (or stuck to the bottom of it in a yellowy-greeny-crunchy mess) before someone else does.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of insects on Earth, so in order to make the most of the silly names afforded to them, the subject matter will be beetles, known as the order Coleoptera, in themselves making up at least a third of all known species on the planet! Aside from this amazing fact, there is no other particular reason for deciding on beetles2, except that they are really kind of funky, and they don't (well, generally) bite, sting or lay their eggs in you.

The Agras

These ground beetles of the Carabidae genus were catalogued by entomologist Terry Erwin in 1983. They are all about the size of a thumbnail and come in an incredible array of colours, ranging from shiny red and black through to metallic green and bluish hues. They are just a few of the hundreds of beetles that he is yet to name, discovered in the rainforests of South America.

  • Agra vation (Ag-rah vay-shun) - This beetle wasn't aggravating. From all accounts, it was just the method of collecting the little blighters.
  • Agra phobia (Ag-rah fo-bee-ah3) - This beetle fears wide open spaces? It lives in a rainforest!
  • Agra cadabra (Ag-rah kah-dab-rah4) - Magic little beetle who can apparently disappear on cue. Can't perform elaborate card tricks, though.

Erwin also named Agra sasquatch and Agra yeti, as he found that they both had 'really big feet'.

The Gelaes

These tiny brown beetles were catalogued by Miller & Wheeler in 2004 and make their home in a range of different fungi.

  • Gelae baen (Jelly Bean) - It's not recommended you add these to your 'Pick-n-Mix'.
  • Gelae belae (Jelly Belly) - A schoolyard taunt or amazing display of abdominal dexterity? Not likely.
  • Gelae donut (Jelly Donut) - Homer Simpson would perhaps not enjoy these little beauties so much.
  • Gelae fish (Jelly Fish) - This variety of fish doesn't have much chance of swimming the Atlantic.
  • Gelae rol (Jelly Roll) - Not a common baked good that you'd have for a snack.


There are many other beetles with weird and wonderful names, but some that stand out from the rest include:

  • Eurygenius (Your-ee-jeen-ee-us) - A species of pedilid beetle, not something you'd shout at Einstein.
  • Pericompsus bilbo (Perry-comp-suss Bilbo) - Another carabid beetle discovered by Terry Erwin, named after a hobbit as 'it was short, fat, and had hairy feet'.
  • Partystona (Party-stone-err) - A type of darkling beetle found in Texas, not a college drop-out.
  • Ytu brutus (Yet-tooh brew-tus) - A variety of water beetle catalogued by Spangler in 1980, who appears to have had a love of Shakespeare's plays, in particular 'Julius Caesar' - Et tu Brute?

Not the Only Ones

Of course, it is not just beetles that have received some strange and perhaps not overly-thought-over monikers. The tiny earwig Labia minor, the wasp named Heerz lukenatcha, spiders in the Oops family, the Pacific island snail Ba humbugi, the clam Hunkydora and, to round it all off, Erechthias beeblebroxi the false-headed moth, and the triple-fin blenny fish, Fiordichthys slartibartfasti5...

1People who study insects, not to be confused with etymologists who are specialists in the study of the origins of words.2No, not those ones.3Meant to sound like 'agoraphobia', the fear of wide open spaces.4Wordplay on the term 'abracadabra', used by magicians. There was a mollusc named Abra cadabra, but it has since been re-classified.5Both of which can blame The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for their obscure names.

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