Some people think that it doesn't matter what you call a bug - it's still a bug! (Don't tell P.R. Mantis!) Those people are probably right to some extent. We could call things whatever we want. But if we don't give things names, it is very hard to talk about them. Consider the following two thoughts:
"Today, I saw a small, black, hairy, oval-shaped thing that had clearish-white wings and moved really fast and buzzed when it zipped around, land on my sandwich. It was weird."
"Today, I saw a fly land on my sandwich. It was weird."
One reason some people think science is difficult is because of the terminology. Science has its own language just like most other complicated subjects. Think about all the new words that get made up in video games (what is a pac-man anyway?)
Scientists (and regular people) categorize things.
Chairs and tables and beds and couches are "furniture."
Dinner table chairs, computer desk chairs, love seats and recliners are "chairs."
Dogs and cats and birds are "pets."
Terriers and Shepherds and Poodles are "dogs."
Insects and Arachnids and Millipedes and Centipedes and Crustaceans are "Arthropods."
Butterflies, dragonflies, beetles and ants are "Insects."
Of course, the other problem with many sciences is that most of their names for things are in Latin. It seems like it would be easier in English! But not all scientists speak English. So why Latin?
Latin became the adopted language of the sciences because it wasn't used as a spoken language anywhere in the world. This means it is less likely to change. Imagine if the meaning of the numbers we use in mathematics changed regularly! Spoken languages evolve. But most scientific terminology and names of living things stay fairly stable over time.
Not the everyone always agrees on how or where animals and plants should be classified! There are big professional arguments about this all the time, and categories get shifted around alot. But not the same as if we used a spoken language.
Do we need to memorize all the names?
Heck no! That would take forever!
Over the years of doing research, I have learned the scientific names of a few plants and animals. Only a very few did I actually 'learn' by memorizing them. But when you work with certain things, you talk to people about them, you do research on them, and you write about them. You learn their names really well.
Here are some of the names I have learned while doing research:
Monarch Butterflies - Danaus plexippus
Red-vented Bul-Bul Bird - Pycnonotus jacosus (or close to that - this is just from memory!)
Red-breasted Bul-Bul Bird - Pycnonotus cafer (same caveat!)
Giant Crownflower Plant - Calatropis gigantea(?)
Some of the plant toxins were called Cardian glycosides and digitalis
Asian Tiger Mosquitoes - Aedes aegypti, A. albopictus, A. triseriatus
Nifty large, beautiful mosquito with predatory babies - Toxyrhinchites rutilis
Other mosquito names - Culex, Anopholes (those are the Malaria ones)
Ground-nesting wasps in California - Ammophila dysmica
The caterpillars they provisioned their nests with from the Genus Geometridae
Do you know any scientific names? You can send them to us here and we'll add yours to our list! Just tell us the name and how you know it. YAY!
Here are the answers to some interesting questions we have addressed
over the years.
Why do we need to name things - and learn their names?