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Origins of names (Entomological Etymology)

I've been keeping track of these for a while. There are some fascinating names out there, especially for genera. There are often subtle classical allusions or jokes. I'm going to list things that stand out in terms of cleverness, poesy, and just plain coolness. This will always be a work in progress, given the large number of names for insects. Comments and corrections welcome. Religion--Judeo-Christian origin:
  • Chariessa--a clerid beetle, reference is to a martyr of the Eastern Orthodox Church--she was drowned with a ring of stones around her neck. The beetle has prominent, long, knobbed antennae, probably a reference to the ring of stones. (My all-time favorite so far.)
Mythology and Graeco-Roman religion and classical life:
  • Horesidotes (grasshopper)--"he who regulates the seasons", i.e., Apollo
  • Bomolocha, now Hypena (noctuid moth)--a Greek jester/beggar
  • Laphria (robber fly)--Greek, despoiler, may refer to a religious festival with lots of sacrifices
  • Buck Moth, Hemileuca maia. Maia was the moste beautiful of the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades
  • sphinx moth Enyo and jumping spider Eris named for minor goddesses of war, horror and strife
  • Anobiidae (death-watch beetles)--perhaps refers to Egyptian God of death, Anubis
Classical (Graeco-Roman, mostly) military terms:
  • Promachus (big, mean robber fly)--Latin "soldier of the first rank"
  • Diogmites (robber fly)--Greek (?), police agent (bounty hunter?)
  • Trigonopeltastes (scarab beetle)--"triangular shield"
  • Ichneumon Wasp, Gnamptopelta (bent shield) obsidinator (beseiger)
Simply interesting names from Latin, Greek, etc.
  • Apantesis--a tiger moth. From Greek apantao = to meet (thanks to Chuck Entz), or possibly from Greek apanthesis, a time of flowering (Perseus Project)
  • Penthe (teratomid beetle)--Greek, "to mourn". Also found in a Star Trek movie as the Klingon penal asteroid Rurapenthe
  • same Greek root appears in Hemipenthes, a bee-fly that has wings half-cloaked in dark mourning colors
  • Lestes (damselfly)--Greek, plunderer
  • Lytta (beetle)--madness; perhaps refers to "worm" under a dog's tongue
  • Melanolestes (assassin bug)--"dark plunderer"
  • Pselliopus (assassin bug): Greek psellion=bracelet or anklet + pus < pous=foot (thanks to Chuck Entz on this one)
  • Calopteron (Lycid beetle)--"beautiful wing"
  • Calosoma (ground beetle)--"beautiful body"
  • Xyloryctes (scarab beetle)--Greek, "wood mole"
  • Xylophanes (sphinx moth), from Greek xylon=wood + phanes, from phaino=to appear, appear to be (in other words, "looks like it's wood")--thanks to Chuck Entz
  • Chlaenius (ground beetle)--"cloaked"
  • Greek Chaulios (?), "outstanding/impressive" shows up in cantharid beetle Chauliognathus (outstanding jaws) and neuropteran Chauliodes (outstanding teeth)
  • Glischrochilus (sap-loving beetle)--"sticky lip"
  • Ululodes (Owlfly), from a Latin word for owl
  • Orgyia (Lymantriid moth), is Greek for "length of outstretched arms", i.e., a fathom--the author, Ferdinand Ochsenheimer, was an actor and playwright
  • Amphion a genus of sphinx moths, and Zethus, a genus of wasps, named for the twins Amphion and Zethus
  • Rasahus (assassin bug), from Hebrew "villain"
  • Sinea (assassin bug), from Hebrew "thorny bush"
  • Sehirus (true bug)--Hebrew, "spiky"
  • Stiretrus anchorago--species name seems to come from the name of a fish
  • Apiomerus (assassin bug) named for resemblance, at least of its legs, to a weevil, Apion
  • Acholla (assassin bug) = "not spiny", referring to the cholla cactus, perhaps
  • common names for the Eastern Dobsonfly (Corydalus cornutus)--hellgrammite (larva) and dobsonfly (adult), both obscure
Wordplay, anagrams, etc.:
  • Cisseps (scape moth)--an anagram of Scepsis, the genus in which the moths were orginally placed
  • Datana and Nadata (prominent moths) must be anagrams, both named by Walker in 1855. Walker also named a slug moth, Natada in 1855, yet another anagram. Are any of these the original word from whence the anagram?
  • continuing the theme of lepidopteran anagrams, genus Anathix Franclemont 1937, an anagram (and largely a split from) the older genus Xanthia Ochsenheimer 1816
  • the one North American representative of Xanthia is tatago, an anagram and split from the formerly conspecific Palearctic Xanthia togata
  • Satole Dyar, 1908--anagram of Tosale Walker, 1863
  • family Yponomeutidae ermine moths--based on a typographic error in the original publication
  • Urgleptes (longhorn beetle)--an anagram of Lepturges, another longhorn genus
Puzzles--names of uncertain origin:
  • Dicaelus, a ground beetle, refers to the pronotal projections that resemble engraving tools?
  • Phileurus (scarab beetle)--loving well?
  • Meloe (blister beetle)--Greek, to probe a wound?
  • Tetrigidae (pygmy grassshoppers)--called "grouse locusts", from the name of a grouse, Tetrao tetrix?
  • Cetoniinae--scarab beetle subfamily
  • Eacles--genus of the Imperial Moth
  • Atteva--genus of Ailanthus Webworm Moth--perhaps from English atter poison, pus
  • Murgantia--stinkbug genus--perhaps refers to face-like markings
  • Alydus--a genus of broad-headed bugs--origin unclear
  • Hypsoropha (Noctuid moth)--typographic error for Hypsomorpha?
  • Proxys (stink bug)--from Greek praxis?
Eponyms--named after a person:
  • TBA
Resources on the Etymology of Entomolgy Handy links for searches:
  • Google, of course
  • Latin translation TBA
  • Greek translation TBA
Important print references:
  • Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms
  • (1)
  • A Dictionary of Entomology
  • (2)
  • The Century Dictionary
  • (3)
  • The Oxford English Dictionary
  • Cassell's Latin Dictionary
  • Hamilton's Mythology
  • TBA--Dictionaries of Mythology
Other lists of curious names:
  • TBA

Another resource
There is a list of more than 11,000 roots at

updated link in comment above
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Can you tell me how to bookma
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Here is the current link:

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Thank you for the current link!

Etymology of Biological Names
I would add the following references to Patrick Coin's list:

1: R.W. Brown (1956), Composition of Scientific Words, Smithsonian Institution Press, revised edition 882 pp.
2: E.C. Jaeger (1955), A Source-Book of Biological Names and Terms, Charles C. Thomas Pub., 3rd edition 323 pp.
3: D.J. Borror (1960), Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms, Mayfield Pub., 1st edition 134 pp.
4: Century Dictionary on-line
5: R.S. Woods (1966), An English-Classical Dictionary for the use of taxonomists, Pomona College, 331 pp.
6: D.M. Ayers (1972), Bioscientific Terminology - words from Latin and Greek Stems, University of Arizona, 325 pp.
7: O.E. Nybakken (1959), Greek and Latin in Scientific Terminology, Iowa State University, 321 pp.
8: W.S. Blatchley (1910), On the Coleoptera or Beetles known to occur in Indiana, Indianapolis, 1386 pp.
9: H.D. Cameron (2005), An etymological dictionary of North American spider genus names, pp. 274-330, in D. Ubick et al., Spiders of Noth America, American Arachnological Society, ISBN 0-9771439-0-2.

I check all three references (1 - 3) when I need to "decipher" a given biological name. Each may have something the others miss. For example, "Apantesis" under recent discussion here shows up only in ref (2) as "apantes - an encounter, reply, Ex: Apantesis (Insect)". Ref (8) gives etymologies of almost all the beetle genera of northeastern North America. For example, ground beetle genus "Dicaelus" (puzzling per Patrick) is cited by (8) as "Greek: two + pitted, ... refers to impressions near base of thorax". Ref (5) gives only the direction English-to-Classical which is important if you want to coin scientific names. Ref (1) gives both directions. Ref (6 - 7) are scholarly textbooks/dictionaries which include the necessary grammatical rules.

Another excellent source
is the comprehensive recent paperback by Tim Williams - A Dictionary of the Roots and Combining Forms of Scientific Words, 2005, 254 pp, ISBN 1-4116-5793-4. I do not know if there is a later edition. Unlike most other dictionaries on scientific etymology, this one gives the familiar anglicized root words along with the corresponding root in its original Greek characters. Knowing the Greek characters may help in otherwise difficult pronunciations, particularly in the cases of proper vowel sounds.

Excellent--contributions needed
Excellent set of references and links. You should ask John VanDyk to make you an editor so you can add such material to the guide pages--that would be a real addition.

You have to be careful about using names because many names are themselves derived from Greek words. A quick look at the Perseus Greek reference tools (go to Perseus Digital Library,then click on "tools") revealed a few errors in your list:

Apantesis: from apantao= to meet. The only connection with the Rapture is in a biblical reference to meeting Jesus.
Pselliopus: psellion=bracelet or anklet + pus < pous=foot
Xylophanes: xylon=wood + phanes<phaino=to appear, appear to be (in other words, "looks like it's wood")
Chaulio-: derived from chauli-odous/-odontos, which means outstanding/protruding teeth. Examples of ancient usage include references to boar tusks and crocodile teeth.

Corrections finally made
Thanks for your help, Chuck. I've made the corrections you suggested--those had been sitting in my "to do" folder for a long time. Help much appreciated.

Patrick Coin
Durham, North Carolina

Thanks for help with Greek!
Thanks those are very helpful. I took Latin in high school and college, but only know a smattering of Greek. It can be quite difficult to research Greek on the web due to the non-Roman alphabet.

I'll be revising that article sometime in the future, incorporating your comments. Thanks for the link to the Perseus Digital Library.

Diddling around briefly, I found another possibility for Apantesis:
apanth-êsis , eôs, hê,
A. time of blossoming

Patrick Coin
Durham, North Carolina

Some Greek names :)
Delta, Epsilon, Zeta, and Omicron are all genera in family Vespidae, subfamily Eumeninae.

Another idea
Maybe include instructions on divining the origins of names? There's that online WORDS program by Whittaker that does Latin->English for example, and some of the Greek->English translators.

I sometimes find the origin of a name in A Dictionary of Entomology (1). When the name appears to refer to a person, I usually can find out it who it is by checking there if it happens to be someone prominent in entomology (often the case).

Curious Scientific Names
You may wish to include some of the bug related things that Yanega mentions in his Curious Scientific Names.

Not a bad idea to include a link to that page as well and perhaps any others in a similar vein.

Another great names site
Here's my favorite site on names:

There's a solpugid with the species epithet named for Inyo County, California, where it occurs:

Can't remember if it's Eremobates or other.

Kari J McWest, Canyon, Texas

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