11 Naughty-Sounding Scientific Names (and What They Really Mean)
By Arika Okrent
It’s a big world of flora and fauna out there, and scientists need to classify and label it. They’ve come up with a lot of terms that are humorous on purpose (Ytu brutus, Inglorious mediocris, Roberthoffstetteria nationalgeographica, etc.) but there are a few that are perfectly innocent Latin or Greekisms that just happen to sound like something else.
Are you ready to get immature? Here are 11 naughty-sounding scientific names and what they really mean.
This genus of snails was named for their cylindrical shells that look like tiny sausages. It comes from Latin farcire, “to stuff.” A fartum is a stuffed thing, and a fartulum is a little stuffed thing, a.k.a. a tiny sausage. It would make an excellent science fair project topic for a second-grader.
2. Turdus maximus
Turdus is a genus of birds called thrushes (it means “thrush” in Latin). Maximus means “biggest” or “greatest.” This Turdus maximus, a.k.a. Tibetan blackbird, is a beauty, don’t you think?
3. Colon asperatum
The Colon genus of beetles originally got its name from kolon, the Greek word for “limb” or “joint.” While asperatum brings to mind inhaling, it actually means roughened, from the Latin asper, for “rough.” Just a rough joint here. No reason to giggle.
Bugeranus is a genus with only one species, the Bugeranus carunculata or wattled crane. Bugeranus comes from the Greek bous (“ox”), and geranus (“crane”). This wading bird is also known as Grus carunculata, a more widely used but much less funny scientific name.
5. Arses insularis
The ochre-collared monarch is named for Arses, the ancient king of Persia. This bird lives in the islands (insulae in Latin) of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Isn’t it regal-looking? A real royal arses.
6. Pinus rigida
The pitch pine is a very sturdy pine tree native to the eastern U.S.
7. Texananus areolatus
In Latin, an areola was a small open space, like a garden or courtyard. In botany, areolatus is used to describe patterns of small clearings or spots. The -anus suffix in Latin makes an adjective out of a place. If you’re from Rome, you’re Romanus. If you’re from Texas, like this spotted leafcutter, you are Texananus.
8. Turdus migratorius
Behold the American robin, a migratory thrush. This Turdus gets around.
9. Botryotinia fuckeliana
The Botryotinia genus name of these fungi comes from botrus, ancient Greek for “cluster of grapes.” The species name honors famous German mycologist Karl Wilhelm Gottlieb Leopold Fuckel.
10. Dorcus titanus
We call this the giant stag beetle because it looks like it has horns. Dorcus is Latin for “antelope.” This Dorcus is not to be messed with.
11. Poospiza hypochondria
The rufous-sided warbling finch may have some worries about its health (it is a threatened species), but hypochondria comes from the Greek for “under the ribs,” where this beauty has a lovely red marking. As for Poospiza, it comes from poa, ancient Greek for “grass,” and spiza, meaning “finch.”
A version of this story ran in 2014; it has been updated for 2023.