Field of Science

Taxonomy Trivia Quiz #2: You've Come a Long Way, Baby

If there are any of you who remember the last time I presented a quiz - don't worry, this one will probably be easier. But first, a little background (which may be familiar to some of you):

In 1887, Othniel Charles Marsh described a pair of large fossil horns as Bison alticornis, placing them in the same genus as the modern bison. As it turned out, the horns were not from a bison, they were from a dinosaur, either Triceratops or a close relative (the 'Bison' alticornis remains are not extensive enough to be sure). 'Bison' alticornis is just one of many cases of species originally assigned to genera to which they are no longer regarded as closely related. In some cases, such as the example I've just given, the original author did not have the material available that would have allowed a more accurate placement (ceratopsid fossils combining both dinosaurian characteristics and horns would not be described until a year later, by Marsh himself; at the time he described the alticornis horns, the possibility that they might have come from some sort of gigantic lizard probably never entered the equation). Sometimes, the concept associated with the genus name was simply far broader than its present circumscription (Linnaeus' original concept of Vespertilio, for instance, covered all bats). And sometimes, the characters regarded as defining a genus were different from the characters used today (Linnaeus' Falco was defined as carnivorous birds with a feathered head, hooked beak and without a covering of bristles at the base of the beak; it therefore included members of modern Accipitridae as well as Falconidae).

Below are fifteen examples of species names that are now placed some distance taxonomically from their original (or early) genera. Some are still recognised as valid species, some have been synonymised with other species. What I want you to do is tell me what these animals really are:

1. The 'ciliate' Vorticella cinctum.

2. The 'snail' Helix smaragdus.

3. The 'nautilus' Nautilus radicula.

4. The 'harvestman' Phalangium cancroides.

5. The 'crab' Cancer pulex.

6. The 'starfish' Asterias bifida.

7. The 'sea cucumber' Holothuria priapus.

8. The 'stickleback' Gasterosteus volitans.

9. The 'condor' Vultur fulvus.

10. The 'hoopoe' Upupa eremita.

11. The 'anteater' Myrmecophaga striata.

12. The 'lemur' Lemur simiasciurus.

13. The 'mouse' Mus canguru.

14. The 'otter' Lutra minima.

15. The 'civet' Viverra cancrivora.

And as a bonus point:

16. The 'slug' Limax lanceolatus.

Winners win the right to say "I won".

Picture Credits:

Vorticella used before, but original source page appears to have vanished.
Helix pomatia by Janek Pfeiffer.
Nautilus from here.
Phalangium opilio from Morten Hansen.
Cancer productus by Dave Cowles.
Asterias forbesi from here.
Holothuria edulis from here.
Gasterosteus aculeatus from here.
Vultur gryphus from here.
Upupa epops by Claudio Torresani.
Myrmecophaga tridactyla by Christopher Reiger.
Lemur catta from here.
Mus musculus from here.
Lutra lutra by David Pape.
Viverra zibetha by Robert Sterndale.
Limax maximus by Matthew Bulbert.


  1. I'll try, without looking anything up:
    1. A rotifer?
    2. No idea
    3. A foraminiferan?
    4. No idea, maybe some kind of crustacean? Or a mite?
    5. Daphnia pulex (Water flea)?
    6. No idea
    7. A priapulid
    8. Species name suggests this is a flying fish
    9. Gyps fulvus (Griffon vulture)
    10. Geronticus eremita (Waldrapp/Northern Bald Ibis), known to Linnaeus only from descriptions, as it was already extinct in Europe in his time and not yet rediscovered in northern Africa
    11. Numbat?
    12. No idea
    13. Seems to be a kangaroo from the species name
    14. Otter shrew?
    15. No idea
    16. Branchiostoma lanceolatum (the lancelet)

  2. Lars, I'll give you six of those. Well done.

  3. Not cool Christopher -- I'm supposed to be working on my dissertation proposal.

    Ah well, Lars beat me to most of the ones I had an idea for.

    to fill in, I'm guessing:
    4 = pseudoscorpion? Chelifer cancroides
    6 = a feather star?
    13 = kangaroo rat? Dipodomys
    15 = crab eating raccoon? Procyon cancrivorus

    I think I've worked a few more out with the google, but that's cheating so I'll leave them for others

  4. This one seems a lot harder to me. I will guess that Viverra cancrivora is now Procyon cancrivorus?

  5. Oh, and 12 sounds kind of like a tree shrew.

  6. Neil got two, Mike got a round number. I'll put the answers up tomorrow.

  7. Rounded up or down? Or ... just ... round?...

  8. 1. Peridinium cinctum ?

    So this means someone thought it was a good idea to mistake a fucking dino for Vorticella? Or some other kind of taxonomic mess?

    So we're basically looking for things with above listed names as basionyms?

  9. and hold on... please don't post answers yet! Have an unrelated exam to study for, so this is a perfect opportunity to procrastinate

    This is kinda fun, in a very disturbing way...

  10. (we are allowed to look stuff up, right?)

    2. Turbo smaragdus?
    3. Nodosaria radicula (foram)

    4. Ischyropsalis hadzii?

    5. Gammarus pulex (bloody scanned docs are unsearchable! Had to

    rediscover the 'index' >.<)

    6. Antedon bifida (feather star)

    7. Priapulus caudatus (worm)?

    8. Pterois volitans (lionfish)?

    9. Gyps fulvus (griffon vulture)

    10. Geronticus eremita (northern bald ibis)

    11. Tamandua? Seriously, I give up...!

    12. Eulemur mongoz (Mongoose Lemur)?


    13. Jaculus canguru (kangaroo rat)?

    14. Latra minima/Chironectes minimus (water opossum) p.17

    15. Urva cancrivora (crab-eating mongoose)?
    (Can't find supporting document - this one is entirely a google-based hunch =P)

    Bonus: Branchiostoma lanceolatum (lancelet)

    How many did I get?
    I really suck at deciphering taxonomy... >_>

  11. (we are allowed to look stuff up, right?)

    No-one else did... (Though that was why I expected this quiz to be easier, because I thought people would probably be able to find most of the answers through Google).

    There's still three entries that no-one has successfully identified. Hint: all three are South American. (Indeed, I only noticed after I put it together that this whole quiz has a noticeable South American bias.)

  12. 12. It seems you are looking for kinkajou Potos flavus? How anyone thought it was a flipping lemur is quite beyond me.

  13. 11. Myrmecophaga striata - based on a specimen of coati (Nasua nasua), apparently.

    12. Lemur simiasciurus - kinkajou (Potos flavus)

    13. Mus canguru - eastern grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteus)

    14. Lutra minima - yapok (Chironectes minimus)

    15. Viverra cancrivora - crab-eating raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus)


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