Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







What's In A Name?

Entomologists like other scientists, name living things according to a two-name system called binomial nomenclature. For instance, in this scientific lingo humans are called Homo sapiens, our official genus and species. Scientific names are Greek to some people. And for good reason. Most scientific names are based on Greek and Latin roots.

Scientific names serve a very useful purpose. They are universally recognized across all languages. However, most people do not use scientific notation in their daily language. As a result, most living things are known by common names. So it is with the insects.

What's in a name?  Some say quite a bit about their owners. Insect common names sometimes reflect a geographical location. We have Chinese mantids, Carolina grasshoppers, California harvester ants, European hornets, German cockroaches, Hawaiian carpenter ants, and the Tahitian coconut weevil.

Some names are such that you might want to use them to describe your worst enemy. For instance, tropical rat louse, western treehole mosquito, twig pruner, vagabond crambus, uglynest caterpillar, goat sucking louse, or even corn sap beetle.

Names sometimes reflect the food that an insect uses. We have coconut scales, corn leaf aphids, cranberry weevils, onion maggots, yucca moths, raspberry sawflies, and cotton borers.

A few insects lay claim to noble birth. We have Monarch butterflies and regal moths. Other insects are of more humble ancestry. Those insects include the common cattle grub, the common green lacewing and the common malaria mosquito.

Some insects apparently behave in ways that entomologists thought unusual. The crazy ant, the confused flour beetle, the gloomy and greedy scales, and the thief ant all fall into this category.

Other insects, it appears, could use some grooming tips. The crinkled flannel moth might need an iron, a shower could benefit the rough stinkbug, and perhaps the roughskinned cutworm just needs a little lotion. The resplendent shield bearer, however, is fine as it is.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then toad bugs, rhinoceros beetles, and crab lice have paid their compliments. In addition to borrowing their names, they also bear some resemblance to their namesakes.

Some insects are small, like the milkweed bug. Others are smaller, such as the smaller yellow ant. As might be expected, we also have a large milkweed bug and a larger yellow ant.

If all this seems a bit confusing, well it is. You see, that is that purpose for those scientific names. For instance, take that famous insect called the small pigeon louse. It's not really clear if it is a small louse that attacks pigeons or if it is a louse that attacks small pigeons.

No matter, to clear up the confusion, it has a scientific name:  Campanulotes bidentatus compar. Isn't science wonderful?


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Carol McGrew