September 3, 2008
The most exciting thing about discovering a new species, I always thought, was choosing the name.
In fourth grade I sketched out possible names for new species, on the off-chance that I’d recognize a new breed of worm on my walk home and, unprepared, name it something lame. Anikus Guptus, a rare species of something-or-other, could guarantee my immortality in the world of academia.
The team that found the Olive-backed Forest Robin in the tropical backwoods of Gabon, Africa, might have had less self-aggrandizing goals when they named their newly-discovered species Stiphrornis pyrrholaemus.
According to a study published in the journal Zootaxa, Brian Schmidt, an ornithologist with the National Zoo’s Monitoring and Assessment of Biodiversity Program in Gabon, first brought samples of this bird to the United States in 2003. Genetic testing revealed that the 4.5-inch-long forest robins were different from the four species scientists already knew about.
Then the naming. Schmidt adopted the genus name Stiphrornis, common among the four—now five!—species of forest robin. Pyrrholaemus, according to the study, came from the Greek pyrrho, which means “orange-colored” and laemus, meaning “throat.” The English common name, Olive-backed Forest Robin, emphasized the bird’s “distinctive olive back and rump.”
Image courtesy of Brian Schmidt
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