What’s in a Name?

A Humorous Editorial By Jacob Robinson

I have noticed that many of the species that we conserve habitat for here at Wildlands have names that paint a less than clear picture of what to expect, should you be lucky enough to encounter one of them in the wild.  Typically, I’m not the kind of guy who watches over his shoulder for black helicopters, but the strategy that was used to name these animals leads me to believe there may be some methodology that isn’t purely scientific.

I’m talking about the naming process used at the Federal Administration for Kin names of Endangered species (FAKE).  Through my research I have not been able to pinpoint the exact procedure FAKE uses to name these species.  All I have been able to conclude is that their naming process is allusive and in the best interest of the species.

The species that hits closest to home for me is the Giant Garter Snake (Thamnophis gigas) (GGS).  Yes it is a garter snake, but the name “Giant” conjures up images of the movie Anaconda to most people.  If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it ten times that someone has seen a “Giant” garter snake because it was this long (usually standing with outstretched arms).  Most of the time this simply isn’t the case; although true GGS’s can become quite large for garter snakes (up to 65 inches), a large one in the wild is closer to the three foot mark and is typically about the same size as other garter snakes in the area.

As expected GGS have other distinguishing characteristics that set them apart from other garter snakes, but size is not a one of them.  My hat is off to FAKE for their successful concealment of the GGS’s true identity.  This simple name is enough to detour most common folks from harassment of the GGS, for fear of ending up at the mercy of this supposedly gigantic beast.

Next on the FAKE most concealed species list is the Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp (Branchinecta lynchi).  This name selection brink’s on the outer edge of genius for its misdirection and counterintuitive thought.  When I picture this little guy my mind goes in two directions.  The first direction I picture myself hauling a BBQ out to a vernal pool with a bottle of cocktail sauce, the other I picture myself tossing a freshly pulled tooth in the vernal pool, just to come back the next day to get my dollar (or whatever teeth are going for these days).  Also this species genus name (Branchinecta) gives me the feeling that if I’m not careful I will end up with a broken neck.  I don’t quite understand why, but it makes me want to make sure they stay protected.  FAKE, another job well done.

Last but certainly not least on the FAKE name list is the San Joaquin Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica).  Yes, I realize that the name San Joaquin Kit Fox does a pretty good job of describing a Kit Fox.  It’s a small fox with ears that are way to big and they are just as cute as can be, I get it.  So instead of analyzing the name, I like to picture a the Kit Fox driving around San Joaquin County in KITT from Night Rider.  Just imagine that same little fox with sunglasses, cruising San Joaquin County from Thornton down to Ripon in the second coolest Trans-Am (The Bandits Trans-Am is #1) ever to be on television.  That puts a smile on my face and makes me want to do whatever I can to ensure the longevity of the San Joaquin Kit Fox.

On the behalf of myself and the rest of the biological community, I would like to thank FAKE for their efforts in naming threatened and endangered species.  Without their hard work and dedication these species would go un-named, or at least have ones that make sense.