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Re: Extinction



>Just out of interest, why are modern animals named in Latin while dinosaurs
>(and a few other groups I can think of) are named in greek. Is it a case of
>living creatures in Latin, extinct in greek or is there some other rule, or
>is it just the way it happened?

        Well, having had the opportunity to name a couple of new taxa, let
me say that naming is FUN!  No, it isn't limited to Greek or Latin, and
dinosaur names do include both.  Historically, though, the Greek
civilization produced some of the most phenomenal scientists and thinkers
ever, and to honor the traditions begun there, Greek terminology is used to
name taxa of organisms.

        However, even the most amateur dinophile would tell you that
dinosaur names _certainly_ aren't limited to Greek and Latin!  There are
ever-increasing numbers of virtually unpronounceable dinosaur names with
Chinese roots, such as _Tuojiangosaurus_ (a stegosaur).  Some of the
Mongolian dinosaurs have names derived from the Mongolian:  _Saichania_ (an
ankylosaur) is derived from the Mongolian word for "beautiful," and the
holotype (?) specimen is indeed that!  Notice that it isn't a requirement
that dinosaur names end in "-saurus," though that is the norm.  Likewise,
it's traditional to name "thecodonts" ending in "-suchus," and pterosaurs
ending in "-dactylus" or some such.  Some endings are cross-taxonomic,
though, like "-saurus," also used for lepidosauromorphs, "-gnathus" for
pterosaurs, dinosaurs, mammals, etc.

        For anyone who's interested in the roots of scientific names, and
doesn't mind a bit of research, I highly recommend the book _Composition of
Scientific Words_ by Roland W. Brown, published (now) by the Smithsonian.
ISBN #0-87474-286-2.  It's a sort-of two-way dictionary:  you can look up
perfectly good English words and see lists of Greek, Latin, Old English,
Old French, and other language words that are commonly used in scientific
names, most of which include examples.  You can, to a lesser extent, also
look up Greek and Latin words to see their meanings.  My copy was $35, and
has proved indispensible!


Jerry D. Harris
Denver Museum of Natural History
2001 Colorado Blvd.
Denver, CO  80205
(303) 370-6403
Internet:  jdharris@teal.csn.net
CompuServe:  73132,3372

--)::)>   '''''''''''''/O\'''''''''''`  Jpq--   =o}\   w---^/^\^o

Overheard in the Denver Museum's
old Fossil Mammal Hall, from a mother
to her daugher:

"See there?  That's the camel-dinosaur, and
the horse-dinosaur, and the elephant-dinosaur..."

--)::)>   '''''''''''''/O\'''''''''''`  Jpq--   =o}\   w---^/^\^o