Sure, we can show you a picture of a cat and you know what animal it is. But do you know the scientific name for that animal? Scientific names were created so that scientists all over the world could communicate about the various species that inhabit the planet with us. These names help clarify the animal's relationship with other animals while also describing something about the animal. How much did you pay attention in science class in school? Take this challenging quiz and see how many of the scientific names for animals you know! (Bonus if you took Latin as that may help give you clues for these Latin root words!)
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The system for naming animals is credited to Carl Linnaeus who introduced it in his work in 1753. This system would allow animals to be properly grouped in relation to each other while also allowing scientists all over the world, regardless of their native language, to communicate clearly about a specific animal. Many of the animals have been given names which use ancient Latin or Greek words. But some of the names have much more interesting inspirations. Animals can be named after an individual. In fact, if you have enough money, you could pay an institution to give a species your name. Or you could be famous enough to inspire scientists to name a species after you. For example, science writer Carl Zimmer has a tapeworm Acanthobothrium zimmeri named after him. Fictional characters such as Han Solo and places and people from the works of Harry Potter and J. R. R. Tolkien have inspired names as well. Naming species after fictional characters is not a new way that scientists have fun, many animals have been named from tales from mythology and religion. In fact, the skunk is named after a goddess of foul smelling gasses. There are also many names that feature plays on words including anagrams, rhymes, palindromes, puns, and clever translations. Who says scientists don't know how to have a good time?
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