Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Introduction to Latin and Greek Roots and the Number One!

When it comes to giving an organism a scientific name, many languages can be used to construct the two part name (consisting of the genus name and the species name), but it must be in the Latin grammatical form.  For example: a long time ago, last July, I wrote a post about some fun scientific names: click HERE to check it out!  One of the animals that we talked about is an interesting theropod dinosaur from Madagascar.  Named Masiakasaurus knopfleri, this dinosaurs name roughly translates to "vicious lizard of Knopfler."  In this case, the "Knopfler" part of the name is the surname of famous musician Mark Knopfler, and the "Masiakasaurus" part of the name is the origin of the "vicious lizard" half.  So the words in the binomial name don't have to be Latin: however, they are Latinized.  Oftentimes, Greek roots are used.

Oftentimes, you can tell a bit about an animal just from its scientific name.  I like doing this, and thought it might make for a few good posts.  We'll start easy today: let's look at the number one, in both its cardinal (i.e. one, two, three, etc.) form, as well as its multiple form (i.e. once, twice, thrice, etc.).  Many of these roots will be familiar to you, both the Latin roots and the Greek roots.  For example, the root "du" in Latin means the English equivalent of two.  Meanwhile, the Greek root is "di."  For multiples (i.e. the English equivalent of the word "twice"), you would use the Latin root "bi" or the Greek root "dis."  There are often multiple roots that mean the same thing in any given language.  For example, when using the Greek root "di" to mean two, you could instead use "dy" or "duo."  Sometimes, especially for the multiple versions of the roots, there are just not really any animals whose scientific names use them: at least, not that I could easily find.  If you want to search those animals out, by all means be my guest!

Keep in mind, however, that just because a scientific name has the letters of the root in it, doesn't necessarily that the person who originally came up with that name meant that root to be inside.  For example, the dugong, Dugong dugon, appears to have the Latin root "du" in it.  However, the true etymology stems from the Malay name for the animal, "duyung," meaning "lady of the sea."  Another example is the massive extinct penguin Pachydyptes simpsoni.  A quick look at the species name, "simpsoni," might indicate that the Latin root "sim," meaning "once" in English, is in the name: however, this penguin was actually named for the famous paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson!

Much as Pachydyptes simpsoni would have dove into the oceans off the coast of Australia, let us in turn dive into the number one!  We will start with the cardinal roots for the two languages.  First, in Latin, the root word would be "uni."  You might be thinking of "unicycle" (one wheel), or "unicorn" (one horn).  Here is an example of a biological organism with the root "uni" in its binomial name: meet Monotropa uniflora, the ghost plant!  The name genus name, Monotropa, originates from the Greek roots "mono" and "trop," meaning "once" and "turning" respectively.  Meanwhile, the species name, uniflora, means "one" and "flowered" from the roots "uni" and "flora."  We'll talk about this flower again in a few minutes.

Next, we have the Greek root for "one," which is the root word "hen."  For this root, we will look at another fascinating creature we have about!  Remember the turtle-like placodonts that we talked about in a post a few months back?  (No?  Well you better familiarize yourself with it HERE because otherwise your friends will ostracize you.)  Of these placodonts, one of them received the binomial name "turtle-faced single tooth.)  Called Henodus chelyops, the genus name, Henodus, can be broken down into the Greek roots of "hen" and "odus."  As we already talked about, "hen" means "one," and the root "odus" is the Greek root for "tooth."  (We will probably have an entire blog post just about that one root!)

Wait a second, though let's back up to the ghost plant real fast, Monotropa uniflora.  In this binomial name, the root "uni" was only used once in the binomial name, and yet the English words "once" and "one" were both contained within!  Well, this is because the root "mono" is the multiple Greek root for one!  (Remember, multiple would be like once, twice, thrice, etc.)  Here are some other examples of the root word "mono" used in a biological context:

  • One of the three main groups of mammals, the monotremes, get their name from the roots "mono" and "trema," which roughly translates to "single hole."  This refers to the cloaca, a single orifice in many animals that is the only opening for the reproductive, intestinal, and urinary tracts!
  • The dubious taxa of ceratopsian dinosaur called Monoclonius, whose name means "single sprout," and refers to the single horn coming out of the snout of the animal!  The remains of Monoclonius are very fragmentary, however, and some paleontologists believe that Monoclonius is simply a bunch of juvenile ceratopsian dinosaurs clumped together, such as Centrosaurus.  
  • The scientific name of the narwhal is Monodon monoceros, which is double ones!  The name means one-tooth (mono-don) one-horn (mono-ceros).  The root word "ceros" might sound familiar: remember the ceratopsians?  "Ceratopsian" translates to "horned faces" (cerat=horned, tops=face).  
  • This is Monolophosaurus, a Chinese theropod from the Middle Jurassic   It's name, meaning "single-crested lizard," originates from the fact that the animals head plays host to a single large crest running much of the length of the skull!
  • Now this little dinosaur is QUITE the interesting fellow: little Mononykus, one of the few dinosaurs whose arms are even stranger than those of Tyrannosaurus rex!  Literally meaning "one claw," Mononykus had a single claw on its arm, and was quite interesting looking!  This three foot long dinosaur was originally named Mononychus, but the name was changed after it was discovered that name was already taken by a beetle, the iris weevil!
We ain't done yet, though!  Remember before when I mentioned that multiple roots can have the same meaning?  Well, there are two multiple Greek roots that mean one, with "mono" being one and "haplo" being the other!  Here are a pair of examples:

  • The sauropod called Mongolosaurus haplodon, whose genus name refers to Mongolia and whose species name, "haplodon," translates to "single tooth."  Mongolosaurus, like Monoclonius, is a dubious taxa.
  • Here's another sauropod: Haplocanthosaurus, discovered in the Morrison Formation, along with the stegosaur Hesperosaurus, the theropod Allosaurus, and another sauropod called Eobrontosaurus!  However, "Haplocanthosaurus" roughly translates to "simple spined lizard."  This is another example of a root word that has two different meanings: "haplo" can either mean "single," or "simple," making binomial nomenclature anything but.
This is a lot to process for a single post, so I think we will save the twos for next time!

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