What In The World Is A "Procyon lotor" And Other Weird Scientific Names

Published on July 6, 2024

Credit: Mathew Schwartz

From the frozen arctic tundra to tropical rainforests, our nation is home to a spectacular variety of landscapes, each replete with life . Among the thousands of creatures that inhabit the diverse corners of the United States , some truly stand out, emerging as symbols not just for their states, but for the entire country.

Knowing their scientific names allows a deeper understanding of these creatures, not only to identify them accurately but also to discover their origins and evolution.

Ready to take a walk on the wild side? Join us as we decode the scientific names behind these 10 American animals!


Alligator Mississippiensis

Credit: Joshua J. Cotten

Native to the southeastern United States , this tough reptile is not exactly what you might call "small." This formidable species can measure 11.2 to 15.1 feet in length and weigh up to an impressive 1,000 lbs!

Better known as the American Alligator , the Alligator mississippiensis has its identity well stated in its name. While mississippiensis might sound like a tongue-twister, its meaning is surprisingly clear. Yes, you got it: this Latin term indicates the creature's origin from the Mississippi River and surrounding areas!


Ursus arctos horribilis

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Ever had one of those days when all you wanted to do was sleep for hours? Well, that's what this animal does, but during the whole winter season!

The ursus arctos horribilis (don't feel bad, we laughed too) is commonly known as the grizzly bear . This species stands out for its large size, being one of the largest bear species in the world.

And its scientific name is no less peculiar: ursus comes from Latin, meaning " bear ," while arctos originates from Greek, translating to " north ." As for horribilis , it's exactly what you might imagine; a Latin term meaning "horrible" (or, for gentler interpretations, "terrifying").


Heloderma suspectum

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Don't let the cute face of this reptile fool you. The famous Gila Monster is a native species found in the southwestern regions of our country, and not only does it have a large size compared to other lizards, but it is also venomous !

In the world of science, the Gila Monster is known as Heloderma suspectum . Heloderma comes from Greek and can be translated into English as " studded skin " or "nail skin," alluding to the texture of the reptile's scales. On the other hand, the word suspectum originates from Latin , with a meaning close to " suspicious " or " distrustful ." It is not clear why this second word is part of the lizard's name; perhaps it is a subtle warning for the next time you encounter one!


Haliaeetus leucocephalus

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An emblematic creature, the Bald Eagle rules as one of our national animals, symbolizing cherished values of freedom, independence, and strength.

As you know, the bald eagle is not bald at all. Its common name may derive from a mistranslation of its scientific classification: Haliaeetus leucocephalus . Originating from Latin, the word Haliaeetus alludes to its association with coastal areas, translating to " sea eagle ." Meanwhile, leucocephalus is an explicit picture of its intimidating and unique appearance, meaning " white head ."


Procyon lotor

Credit: Simon Infanger

We're all familiar with these clever creatures, the renowned raccoons , with their unmistakable mask-like faces and inclination for nocturnal adventures . Interestingly, both their common and scientific names allude to their peculiar behaviors.

The word " raccoon " originates from Native American languages and it can be translated as "the one that scratches with its hands," highlighting the animal's expert use of its little front legs .

In addition, its scientific name is a combination of two Latin words: Procyon , suggesting a resemblance to dogs , and lotor , translating to " washer ," due to the raccoon's curious behavior of wetting or "washing" its food before eating it.


Bison bison

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Believe it or not, there's no mistake in the title. The American bison 's scientific name is actually Bison bison . It's a bit like having your first name and last name match, which would undoubtedly lead to confusion.

Now, let's see why the word appears twice. The first ** Bison **refers to the genus to which the American Bison belongs. The second bison indicates the specific species within the Bison genus. Thus, the Bison genuscontains two species: the European bison ( Bison bonasus ) and the American bison (our dear Bison bison ). Sorry, how many times have we already said "bison"?


Gymnogyps californianus

Credit: Jeffrey Eisen

With a wingspan that can stretch up to an impressive 9 feet , our California Condor is one of the continent's largest birds . But besides its formidable size and striking appearance, it also has an interesting scientific name.

** Gymnogyps californianus **is the name of this condor in the scientific world. Curious about its meaning? The term Gymnogyps derives from Greek and can be translated into English as " naked vulture ," referring to the bird's characteristic bare head. Meanwhile, ** californianus **indicates the bird's deep ties with the state of California , which it has long inhabited, along with other regions.


Didelphis virginiana

Credit: Liam Wolff at English Wikipedia, FAL, via Wikimedia Commons

But California isn't the only state that borrowed something from ancient languages to name its wildlife! Virginia joins this list, too.

The well-known Virginia opossum , sometimes called the northernmost marsupial in the world, is known to biologists as Didelphis virginiana ; let's analyze its meaning.

Didelphis is a Greek term, with di meaning " two " and delphus translating to " womb ," alluding to the unique reproductive system of marsupials. What about virginiana ? Well, this term gives the Virginia ID to the cute animal, even though it is distributed throughout North America.


Canis latrans

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Maybe this animal is not what you could define as a cute little dog, but at least it belongs to the same family. The coyote , scientifically known as Canis latrans , is a mammal native to North America. This mostly solitary creature is not only capable of impressive speeds of 40 miles per hour, but can also jump over 13 feet!

The Latin word Canis celebrates the family to which the coyote belongs, the same family that encompasses domestic dogs and wolves, with which the coyote shares many common features, of course. On the other hand, latrans , also from Latin , translates as " yelping ," referring to the coyote's characteristic vocalization.


Antilocapra americana

Credit: David Thielen

The pronghorn is a herbivorous mammal, a species of artiodactyl native to our continent. Its scientific name is Antilocapra americana .

As you may already know, americana serves as the species' name, signifying the animal's native habitat in America . Now, the term Antilocapra originates from Greek and is often translated as " opposite to goat, " indicating the distinction from goats, relatives of the antelopes.

Want to know the pronghorn's closest living relatives? Those are the giraffe and okapi . If the latter doesn't sound familiar, we recommend you search for a photo of this animal if you are in for a surprise!


Dive Into The Magical Worlds Of These Fantasy & Science-Fiction Series!

Published on July 6, 2024

Credit: Natalia Y.

American author Stephen King once said "books are a uniquely portable magic" . We believe he is absolutely right: There is something truly fantastic about the way books transport us to unique worlds, where the laws of our reality are changed into something new and magical. And this world-making ability is probably most evident in the epic fantasy and science fiction genres.

We have selected ten book series which truly make use of their authors’ abilities to imagine new, fantastical scenarios which push the boundaries of our understanding. Keep on reading, you might find a new favorite!


Dune - Frank Herbert

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We’ll start this list with what many believe to be the most important science-fiction series on the 20th century. Frank Herbert’s magnum opus is still revered to this day for creating one of the most innovative and inventive settings in history.

While "Dune" delves into psychic abilities, prophecies and the political turmoil between ancient houses, one of its strengths is the way the planet of Arrakis is described. Herbert shows his true mastery in creating not only a breathtaking landscape, but a complex and detailed environment on which themes such as politics, technology and magic can flourish.


A Song of Ice and Fire - George R.R. Martin


Most known for being the inspiration behind the hit HBO show "Game of Thrones" , this book series by American author George R.R. Martin truly changed the way fantasy series are conceived nowadays. A Song of Ice and Fire not only included dragons, magic and armor-clad knights fighting in epic battles , but it also incorporated intrigue, treachery and political machinations to a medieval setting.

While the first book of the series was published nearly 30 years ago, the reading world is still expectantly waiting for the final two books to be published. Martin is definitively taking his time: the latest book in "A Song of Ice and Fire" was published in 2011. Nevertheless, despite this decade-long gap, fans of this series have not wavered and are still eager to find out what the next books have to offer.


American Gods - Neil Gaiman

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America is truly a melting pot of civilizations : The "Land of the Free" has provided a home for people from all around the world, on which hundreds of different cultures, heritages and traditions have coexisted for centuries. English author Neil Gaiman was inspired by this multiculturalism to create his 2001 book "American Gods", on which America becomes a place on which different civilizations exchange not only their cultures, but also their gods and mythical creatures.

"American Gods" follows the story of Shadow Moon, an ex-convict who finds himself involved in a matter between the old gods that travelled to America. Shadow gets to know the Norse god Odin, the Hindu god Ganesh, and a leprechaun called Mad Sweeney, among others. The series was adapted into an Emmy-nominated show in 2017.


The Dark Tower - Stephen King

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While Stephen King is known as the indisputable master of horror , with over 65 iconic novels published, he is also a beloved contributor to the fantasy series thanks to his iconic series "The Dark Tower." Mainly comprised of eight novels, this series follows gunslinger Roland Deschain on his quest to reach the Dark Tower, a mythical structure on which all universes are connected.

While the plot might seem simple, it is anything but. King establishes a rich and complex domain, on which countless characters and settings are seamlessly interwoven. It is no wonder that King himself has referred to this series as his "magnum opus": It is a dark but magical universe filled with the genius of this beloved author.


The Foundation Series - Isaac Asimov

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Even if you are not a science-fiction fan, you might still be familiar with Isaac Asimov’s "Three Laws of Robotics." This fictional set of rules, first published in the 1942 short story Roundabout , established the way on which artificial life could be safely integrated into our society. And while the Three Laws are heavily ingrained into pop culture to this very day, Asimov contributions to the science-fiction genre go way beyond them, including his groundbreaking series "Foundation."

Originally comprised of three novels published between 1942 and 1950, this series recounts the final days of a future Galactic Empire, and the development of a new discipline known as "psychohistory." In 1982, Asimov published "Foundation's Edge", the first of four books that expanded the universe he created in the 50s.


The Witcher - Andrzej Sapkowski

Credit: Jonathan Kemper

Just like Game of Thrones, this series by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski might be better known by the award-winning videogame series of the same name. However, there is a reason behind why fans of the series were so enthralled by the videogame: it finally allowed them to experience in first-hand the fantastic and mysterious world that the book series masterfully describes.

"The Witcher" narrates the travels of Geralt of Rivia, an adventurer who travels across an unnamed fantasy continent fighting evil creatures and monsters . With eight books, spanning over two decades, this epic saga is filled with dark plots, fearsome monsters and thrilling adventures.


The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis

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The first series on this list to be intended for a younger audience, C.S. Lewis classic collection of books is to this day considered a masterpiece in the fantasy genre . Originally published between 1950 and 1956, this series comprises the creation and history of Narnia, and the adventures of a group of children that wander into this fantasy realm.

C.S. Lewis’ books are filled with magical and outstanding characters but perhaps the most well known of them all is the lion Aslan , creator and protector of Narnia. To this day, all seven books of this series are still being published, and cherished by young readers everywhere.


Discworld - Terry Pratchet

Credit: Anna Wangler

Who says fantasy series can’t also be funny? If there is a fault to most of these epic, grand-scale masterpieces is that they sometimes take themselves to seriously. Their characters tend to be noble and brave warriors, charming renegades or eccentric geniuses: none of these archetypes leaves a lot of room for humour. However, one of the most praised series of all time is known not only for it’s massive length and detailed world-building, but also for its hilarious and colorful humour. We are talking, of course, about Sir Terry Pratchet’s "Discworld."

Set in the titular Discworld, a flat planet held on the back of four giant elephants standing on top of an even bigger turtle, this massive series is comprised of 41 stand-alone novels, with the final entry being published in 2015 following Pratchett’s death. To focus on one main character would be a disservice to the magic of the series : from Rincewind the unskilled wizard to Granny Weatherwax the witch, every character in the Discworld series is filled with life and personality, and they pay tribute to the genius of one of the most creative authors of his time.


Conan the Barbarian - Robert E. Howard

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When Robert E. Howard created "Conan the Barbarian" in 1931, he couldn’t have been aware of how iconic this ferocious barbarian was going to become. In his over 90 years of history, Conan has appeared in several stories, comics, movies and video-games. He was portrayed by action superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1982 film "Conan the Barbarian", and later on by Jason Momoa in its 2011 remake. Conan has surely become a timeless pop icon, and to think that he got his start as a side character in a humble pulp magazine.

Conan first appeared as the main character of a Robert E. Howard story in 1932, in the short story "The Phoenix on the Sword." This first tale laid the groundwork of the characteristics Conan would be known for: a black-haired warrior, muscular and fierce but also chivalrous and noble.


The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien

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We’ll end this list with a timeless classic . What’s the first image that comes to mind whenever you hear the term "fantasy book"? Do you think about an old wizard, dressed in a grey robe and a pointy hat? Or maybe do you think about an epic battle between men and hideous monsters, fighting to establish which civilization will remain? There’s a reason why the term "fantasy book" is so heavily associated with characters from J.R.R. Tolkien’s "Lord of the Rings" series: Almost eighty-years since its publication, this masterpiece is still considered the quintessential entry into the fantasy genre.

The three main books of this series ("The Fellowship of the Ring", "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King") describe Frodo Baggins’ quest onto the evil land of Mordor, in order to destroy a magical ring that could bring the dark lord Sauron back to life. Tolkien’s worldbuilding ability knows no equal: this series established a complex universe comprised of creatures, history and its very own fictional language, known today as "Tolkien Elvish".

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