Hey, are those Oradarea on your Himantothallus?

Photos from UAB in Antarctica group on Flickr, related to this post
By Craig
Posted on 03/04/07
The other day I began to notice something peculiar about the names of our studied organisms, or lack thereof.  When asked “what are these?” in reference to the algae collected on that morning’s dive, I answered with a laundry list of scientific names that would frustrate the most avid scrabble player: Desmarestia menziesii, Plocamium cartilagineum, Iridaea cordata, Myriogramme smithii, Himantothallus grandifolius.   

If I were asked what animals I had seen in Antarctica, I certainly wouldn’t answer Megaptera novaeangliae, Hydrurga leptonyx, and Pygoscelis adeliae.  Rather, I would say humpback whales, leopard seals, and Adelie penguins. 

Why then is there a propensity to refer to certain organisms by their common name while others are known by their Latin moniker?  My initial thoughts were that scientists, in an effort to confuse the masses with cryptic jargon only understood by other scientists, used Latin names in the context of scientific studies.   

However, this doesn’t seem to be the case.  Other members of UAB’s biology department study red-eared sliders, mosquito fish, and Olive Ridley turtles but seldom talk about studying Trachemys scripta elegans, Gambusia affinis, or Lepidochelys olivacea

Maybe it is an algae versus animal thing.  All the aforementioned creatures with general names are animals while algae are left with names like Geminocarpus geminatus, Laminariocolax ekloniae, and Ascoseirophila violodora.  Well, that is untrue as well.  When I separate all the animals living on the algae, I am usually left with a large bucket of Oradarea bidentata, Gondogeneia antarctica, Metaleptamphous pectinatus and additional amphipods that (as far as I know) have no easy-to-pronounce identities.   

I, then, thought that more commonly seen, and possibly charismatic, organisms had well established common names while others, like most algae and amphipods, were likely only to be referred to in Latin.  I decided to test this theory by asking one of the other Antarctic scientist teams here at Palmer Station, the ‘buggers’ (entomologists), what they study.  Their answer was the “Antarctic Midge”, Antarctica’s only true insect, and the “Seabird Tick”.  What, not Belgica antarctica and Ixodes uriae, respectively?   

How can that be?  These critters are smaller than our most common amphipods, are not commonly known, nor are they charismatic.  “Hey ma, can I have a pet Seabird Tick?”  I think not, even people who have been to Antarctica many times are not aware of the existence of these minute animals.  So, why do they get a common name while all our samples from the sea floor have names that rival terms in balderdash?


Finally, I decided that the reason we do not refer to our chosen organisms of study by  common names is that they may not have one.  Do they need one?  Would a rose by any other name (Rosa canina), smell as sweet?  YES!!!!  If for no other reason than I am already sick of writing out names like Prostebbingia gracilis, Paraphimedia integricauda, and Echiniphimedia hodgsoni, much less having to apply the brakes and prepare my mouth for the challenge of proper enunciation of these plants and animals that I find myself surrounded with here in Antarctica. 


That is why I have decided to end each of my journal entries with a few “nameless” organisms.  If you can come up with a suitable ‘common’ name then please respond to the journal entry.  Each week I will pick the best and will use it when discussing that particular organism in future journal entries.  In a way, you may be naming a previously discovered creature native to Antarctica.  So please be creative and help me give these guys a name!



  1. Re: Hey, are those Oradarea on your Himantothallus?
    Posted by Jessica on 03/04/07

    Hello, Im a PR student at Auburn, and we started looking at your site last week. I think it's great what you guys are doing and I don't just mean the research. Your website is amazing. I love the fact that everyone can keep up with you on your blog and then we get to see what you guys are doing through your Flikr account and the different links you have. The classroom link is genius!
    I have a friend going on a research trip to Antarctica next month and I passed this link on to her as well. Good luck and have fun!

    1. Posted by Craig on 03/07/07
      Thanks for the complimentary comments about our website. I am glad that you are enjoying it! Do you know where in Antarctica your friend is going? A bunch of new people (Winter Over Staff) are coming to Palmer Station next month, I wonder is your friend is among them. Thanks again for the comments and passing our website information to your friends.
  2. Re: Hey, are those Oradarea on your Himantothallus?
    Posted by Robert French on 03/04/07

    Craig, we are loving watching your activities as they unfold.

    I want to play. But, I think I'll need more information to come up with a good, proper and fun name.

    Like with Ixodes uriae, or the Seabird Tick, can you tell us whether or not Prostebbingia gracilis, Paraphimedia integricauda, and/or Echiniphimedia hodgsoni are a favorite snack for some of the other organisms / animals there? Or, like the tick to the seabird, do they live upon/around a particular thing?

    I feel like I'm back in biology class. I always had to ask questions.

    It sounds as if familiarity and focus on a particular organism is what spawns a common name. Kind of like how we begin by addressing people by their surnames, but after getting to know them, we come up with nicknames.

    Great post. Very thought provoking.

    1. Posted by Craig on 03/07/07
      Very good questions and I wish I had definite answers. Currently, I am experimenting to discern what all these guys are eating and their preferred habitats. One theory is that they stay on chemically defended algae during the day, to avoid predation by larger predators like fish, and leave at night to feed under the cover of darkness. P. integricauda seems to be an herbivore while P. gracilis is more an omnivore. I suspect P. gracilis eats anything that comes his way including macroalgae, diatoms, and crustacean parts. I have yet to look closely at the guts of E. hodgsoni. Feel free to use this information along with the pictures to help me figure out a good common name. Thanks for your interest in the website and our studies.
  3. Re: Hey, are those Oradarea on your Himantothallus?
    Posted by Amy on 03/09/07

    How about naming them after common snackfood because of their size, and because the names would be easy to rember? Like "cracker jacks" or "swedish fish"? Or perhaps something inspiring, like "algea of destiny" and "honor-seeking water-pest". :-) Or, if you want to get some funding, maybe you could just name them after the top contributors to your program. "Bob's organism". Hmmm.... That's kind of creepy.

    1. Posted by Craig on 03/10/07
      Wow Amy, I like the name "cracker jacks" for M. pectinatus. Although I am also not against naming these little fellas after famous scientists/explorers/funders. I will have to ponder this more. Thanks for the ideas.
  4. Re: Hey, are those Oradarea on your Himantothallus?
    Posted by Kathy on 03/13/07

    There was a nice article in our local Daily Herald today with your website. Have enjoyed reading about your studies and seeing the photos.
    When I saw the photo for Desmarestia anceps and D. menziesii I thought they reminded me of the current popular yarns, Fun Fur and Eye Lash. I have a scarf that looks very much like these algae, and also the same color.

    1. Posted by Craig on 03/13/07
      Wow, must be a pretty botanical looking scarf. I am glad you are interested in the algae! Rest assured that there will be future posts concerning the flora indigenous to the Western Antarctic peninsula.
  5. Re: Hey, are those Oradarea on your Himantothallus?
    Posted by www on 04/02/07

    hello! good content!

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