Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Where Does the Canada Lynx Live: Using Common Names to Determine the Native Land of Various Animals

In a PREVIOUS POST, we started looking at different Latin and Greek roots, and how you can sometimes use these to tell a little about an animal, just by looking at its scientific name.  Today, we are going to learn an even more helpful skill: how to tell where some animals live, just by looking at their common name!

This can be a bit of a tough concept, so let's look at a few easier examples to start out.  First off, meet the lynx.  There are three species of lynx alive today, Lynx lynx, L. canadensis, and L. pardinus.  First off, let's look at Lynx lynx, commonly called the Eurasian lynx.  Let's try to figure out where this animal is from by breaking down its name.  Let's first try the "lynx" part of the name.  Can you think of anywhere in the world called "lynx?"  Neither can I, so let's try the first part of the name, "Eurasian."  Can you think of a place called "Eurasian?"  Although maybe not by that exact name, the word "Eurasian" is actually formed from combining the words "Europe" and "Asia," and is a term commonly used in biology, as there is not really a distinct geographic barrier that separates these two continents, as there is between, say, Asia and Australia.  So using this knowledge, where do you think the Eurasian lynx might live?

If you guessed Europe and Asia, then you were exactly right, as you can see in the range map of the Eurasian lynx below!  If you are still having a little trouble with this, go ahead and review the first paragraph before continuing on, and see if you can figure out why you got this question wrong.

Next, let's look at L. canadensis, commonly called the Canada lynx.  We've already established that "lynx" doesn't seem to refer to a place on Earth, so let's look at the "Canada" part of the name.  A quick Internet search comes up with an exotic country by the same name, "Canada."  Let's make a hypothesis about where the Canada lynx makes its home.

If you guessed "Canada," then you are spot on again, as you can see in the range map of the Canada lynx below!  Again, if you are still having some trouble, go ahead and review before you move on again.

Now, the third lynx, L. pardinus, is actually pretty tough.  Called the "Iberian lynx," this Critically Endangered cat is native to only a small bit of the "Iberian Peninsula," in Spain and Portugal.  I knew you guys weren't ready for this one yet, so that's why I skipped it.  Don't worry, you will have another shot at a tough one like this later.

There are actually four members of the genus Lynx, but we've only talked about three so far.  What about the fourth?  And can you tell where all animals live, just by using their common name?  You actually can't always tell, as we can see with Lynx rufus, commonly called the bobcat.  If you break down the name "bobcat" into its component parts, "bo" and "bcat," you can see that neither part of the name refers to a specific place in the world.

I know I'm moving pretty fast, so feel free to hang back for a minute or two if you need a moment for a breather, to recuperate.  Meanwhile, let's take a look at a few more examples.  First off, where do you think the recently discovered Omani owl is from?

As many of you guessed, the country of Oman is exactly right!  Although researchers aren't positive that this is a new owl as scientists haven't been able to closely examine a specimen, initial investigations indicate that this might be a brand new species of owl!

Let's look at the four living members of the penguin genus Spheniscus, Spheniscus mendiculus, S. magellanicus, S. humboldti, and S. demersus.  The first, S. mendiculus, is often called the Galápagos penguin.  Do you think it is named after the Galápagos Islands?  (For those of you who don't know where the Galápagos are, you can consult the map below the picture of the Galápagos penguin.)

Exactly right!  The Galápagos penguins is indeed found in the Galápagos!  The next two, S. magellanicus and S. humboldti, (the Magellanic and Humboldt penguins) aren't actually named for where they live: they are named for famous explorers!
A picture of a Humboldt penguin that I took at the Denver Zoo.
Finally, the African penguin, S. demersus.  You guys have got this by now, I think: where is the African penguin from?
A huddle of African penguins, also at the Denver Zoo.
You guys are getting so good at this, I don't think I need to do any more examples!  I do want to point out real fast that you always need to keep in mind whether the common name of these animals references a place on the globe, or something else.  For example the name of the great-horned owl doesn't refer to the fact that it lives in a place called "great-horn."  It merely refers to the fact that the owl appears to have two little horns on its head!
A picture of the great-horned owl that Anne Price and the folks at the Raptor Education Foundation bring to the raptor shows at the Best Western Denver Southwest dinosaur hotel!
And finally, just like the name of the great-horned owl, the name of the red-tailed hawk doesn't mean that the hawk is from "red-tail," it simply refers to the fact that the hawk has a red tail!

You guys sure did great: now go out there and try and make some new friends by telling them all of your new knowledge!

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