Caesar, Cthulu, Literary Species Names

Literary Species Names: Scientists Should Read

There are a lot of living things on the planet. This is probably pretty obvious, but the important part here is that it means they have to name a lot of species. I’ve discussed some of the science fiction and fantasy references in species names before. And of course, I’ve advocated for a strong liberal arts education for more interesting gene names. Today, we’re looking at literary species names. Which technically the Tolkien references were, but there’s so much more.

Caesar, Cthulu, Literary Species Names

Everything from Caesar to Cthulu.


Reichart was clearly on a Greek god kick when he discovered the first members of the Ytu genus of beetle. The early examples include Ytu artemis, Ytu zeus, Ytu Hephaestus, Ytu Athena and so on and so forth.

I don’t know if Spangler just felt like all the good gods were taken or was just tired of them when he discovered a new example in 1980. Or maybe he just realized the pun potential. Regardless, he decided to go for the Shakespeare reference instead and name the new beetle Ytu brutus.

Assassination of Julius Caesar

And now we all stab our salads on March 15th.

It’s a good line.

Ebeneezer Scrooge

This snail from Fiji is not a particularly common creature. Actually, only a handful of specimens have ever been observed. That might be why I was able to find relatively little information about it. In particular, I couldn’t find the reason it was named Ba humbugi. In light of the utter lack of evidence to the contrary, I am choosing to believe that someone was just tired of naming snails.


If you really want to get into needing a lot of names, it’s time to look microscopic parasites. James and coworkers  were studying parasites that infect termites when they came across one that has a large number of flagella. Anyone who stares at something like that long enough is going to start noticing that it also quite resembles some sort of tentacled horror. From there it’s only natural to name it Cthulu macrofasciculumque. The authors are even helpful enough to bring up that the name is meant to be unpronounceable, but the most popular approximation is ke-thoo-loo.


This is of course an approximation as his true form would drive us mad

Caesar Again

Species names are supposed to be in Latin. Or at the very least Latinified, as we’ve seen with all these references. So it’s only natural to make references to Latin phrases. The Conquered Lorikeet is a bit of an interesting case since the genus Vini is actually named after the Tahitan word for a local bird.

The Conquered Lorikeet is so named because it appears to have not survived long after the arrival of humans on its island. They came, they saw, they conquered the lorikeet. So the wordplay of Vini vidivici is just begging to be made.

Statue of Julius Caesar

Looking much more majestic than in the last mention


Okay, I found another Tolkien example. There are a lot of them. Andrea Cau identified a new dinosaur species from a single partial fossil. They were able to extrapolate quite a bit from the skull fossil, including the fact that it was a rather large predator. Combine that with the fact that the fossil only included one eye, she opted for the name Sauroniops pachytholus. Because when you only have a single eye, obviously you name it the Eye of Sauron.

There are a lot of species out there that need names. It’s important that scientists read widely to be able to do so.