A Pleistocene Ecosystem
by Wesley Gordon
page 22


What is a Name?

If you had determined this specimen to be a new coyote species, what would you call it? Canis irvingtonensis Savage would be a good choice. The name has meaning: Canis designates the animal and the genius to which it belongs; irvingtonensis designates that species and also the location where the animal was found, with the addition of the Latin suffix-ensis, which is required by international rules. (You can be certain that much paleontological literature was searched to make sure that no other coyote, living or extinct, was called by this name.) And savage is the name of the man who formally identified the creature. Note that the specimen’s first (genus) name is capitalized, the second (species) name is not, and that both are italicized. The scientist’s name is not italicized.

Not all scientific name designate the characteristics of the animals to which they refer, even though they meet the requirements of the rules. There are many unfortunate examples to be found in scientific literature. Torix, Mycelis, and Oxynoe, for instance, are names given to certain genera of living organisms. (Try to decipher their meaning by searching in a lexicon.) The following names given by another author to genera of crustaceans are without any significant meaning to the public; they are anagrams of his wife’s name, Carolina; Cirolana, Conilera, and Nerocila. They say nothing about the animals. Creating a scientific name is a serious business. Once published, the name should have definite meaning for scientist (and lay men) all over the world, in every language.

Canis irvingtonesis is a comparatively short name. Its spelling is easy to learn. (For brevity, it may be written as C. irvingtonensis or just C. i., if the full name has been used before.) In contrast, try learning to spell gammaracanthuskotylodermogammarus! This term was once used to name a species of amphipod (sand flea).

Many rules limit guide the making of a new scientific name. Only a few have been suggested here. You can go further into this subject by reading “Naming the Living World,” by Theodore Savory, a noted scientific writer. In his book Dr. Savory lists seven simple recommendations for naming newly discovered organisms: A scientific name should (1) be in Latin or easily converted into Latin; (2) contain at least three but not more than twelve letters; (3) be easy to pronounce; (4) convey a meaning, preferably pertinent to the organism to which it belongs; (5) not be derived from two languages; (6) not contain numerals or hyphenated words; (7) not be frivolous that is, silly or cute.

In your opinion, how does C. irvingtonensis Savage rate when judged by Savory’s standards?

In addition to the two jaw specimens, one other Canis irvingtonensis bone was discovered. It was a well-preserved left radius, one of the two lower front leg bones. After comparing the measurements of this fossil and radii from other coyote species, living and extinct, Savage proceeded to speculate on what kind of coyote it belonged to and what its general environment might have been. To quote from his thesis.

From the evidence of the jaw and the radius it may be visualized that this shorter-jawed, shorter limbed, stockier animal from Irvington was a coyote with habitus tending to be somewhat different from known coyotes and perhaps resembling in some respect the foxes. It seems possible that C. irvingtonensis was adapted to living in a brush country and did not run for long distances, as compared to the longer-limbed plains and plains-border coyote.

As a result of measurements and comparison, most of the Irvington fossils have been identified and grouped taxonomically. Figure 22 contains the classifications published to date.

Class Order Family Genus Species Common Name
Pisces         fish
Amphibia Anura Ranidae Rana   frog
Bufonidae Bufo   toad
Reptilia Testudinata Testudinidae Clemmys   turtle
Aves Anseriformes Anatidae Branta canadensis Canada goose
Anas platyrhynchos mallard duck
Mammalia Edentata Megalonychidae Megalonyx Harian   ground sloth
Mylodontidae Paramylodon harlani Owen ground sloth
Rodentia Sciuridae Citellus bensonia Gidley ground squirrel
Geomyidae Thomomys Maximilian   pocket gopher
Heteromyidae Perognathus Maximilian   pocket mouse
Cricetidae Microfus Schrank   vole
Peromyscus irvingtonensis Savage white-footed mouse
Neotoma   wood rate
Lagomorpha Leporidae Sylvilagus   rabbit
Carnivora Canidoe Canis dirus Leidy dire wolf
Canis irvingtonensis Savage coyote
Ursidae Arctodus   bear
Felidae Smilodon californicus Bovard saber cat
Dinobastis serus Cope saber cat
Mustelidae Taxidea   badger
Phocidae Phoca   seal
Proboscidea Mastodontidae Mammut   mastodon
Elephantidae Mammuthus columbi Falconer mammoth
Perissodoctyla Equidae Equus caballus Linnaeus horse
Artiodactyla Tayassuidae     peccary
Camlidae Camelops minidokae Hay camel
Tanupolama Stock   camel
Cervidae Odocoileus Rafinesque   deer
Antilocapridae Tetrameryx irvingtonensis Stirton antelope
Bovidae Euceratherium Sinclair and Furlong   oxlike animal


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