This week I had a real treat as I was able to interview John Wright, an amateur mycologist and a science writer who is interested in the Latin names of species. Wright lives in the United Kingdom and had quite a few interesting stories to tell when we started talking. Unfortunately, his microphone wasn’t working properly, and I only got 15 seconds of useable interview material. Oops! Oh well!
Wright’s book Naming of the Shrew is all about the Latin names behind certain plants and animals. From weird names like Ahaha (I kid you not), Ba humbugi (again, not joking, these are the real names), Kamera lens, Ytu brutus (yep, it’s real)to Ninjemys oweni (which roughly translates to Owen’s Ninja Turtle), John’s book is sure to keep you entertained as well as educated. I was hooked by the end of the first chapter. This book helps to explain why there are such weird names out there for species, as well as the process of taxonomy.
John goes farther though and explains some of the interesting common names we have for animals and plants as well, including penis snake (yep), ice cream worm (doesn’t look like ice cream for anyone who is wondering), the fried egg jellyfish, and even the chicken turtle. Common names are different from Latin names in that common names are what people commonly refer to a species, as opposed to using their Latin names to refer to them. Some plants and animals, like Aloe vera, actually have their Latin name as their common name. Cool huh?
Even after writing his book, John continues to enjoy finding interesting names. When I asked him what his favorite name was (listen to the short interview below), he said it was the Hoopoe, which is a bird native to Africa, Asia, and Europe, and notable for their distinctive “crown” of feathers. John explained that the Hoopoe’s Latin name mimics the bird’s calls, which I thought was cool.
You can find John’s book here to get a copy for yourself. I’d highly recommend for an entertaining and hilarious read about some of the weirdest plants and animals on our planet.