What's in a Name?
by Edward Quickert
: Field trip
Field trip - 4 hours
Class time -45 minutes
Materials and equipment:
- list of organisms
- drawing paper
- colored pencils/markers
- sketch pads
The National Science Teachers Association recognizes that the teaching of biological
evolution should include the concepts-binomial systems, nomenclature, genus and species
at the 9th grade level. Generalization II of the NSTA recommendations states that
"Biological classifications indicate how organisms are related. Organisms are classified
into a hierarchy of groups and subgroups based on their similarities and reflecting
their evolutionary relationships. Species are the fundamental unit of classification.....Observations of the variety of structural diversity of organisms lead to
an understanding of the commonality of structure and function (implied but not explicitly
stated in the Standards document.)"
The binomial system of naming living organisms was developed by the Swedish naturalist
Carolus Linnaeus in the mid 18th century. The polynomial system, that was then in
use, consisted of several Latin, Greek or pseudo forms of these words that described
the features of the organism. For example, common catnip was Nepteta floribus interrupte
spicatus pedunculatis. The honey bee was Apis pubescens thorace subgriseo abdomen
fusco pedipus posticus glabris utrinque margine ciliatis. This cumbersome system
was replaced by Linnaeus' binomial system consisting of just two words. The binomial
system also replaced the confusing practice of using common names. The name white
pine can refer to any one of three different trees, depending on the area of the
country you are in at the time. Several species of tropical trees are identified as "rubber
trees". There are many "ant trees" and at least two "mosquito trees" (so called
because depressions in the bark provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes).
The binomial system eliminates the confusion surrounding the naming of organisms.
Each organism is given a name that consists of only two words. The first name
is the genus. The genus is a large group of organisms that reflect an evolutionary
relationship based on similarities. The second name is the species name that is descriptive
of the organism. The genus name is always capitalized while the species name, which
follows the genus name, is usually lower case. The genus and species names are standardized throughout the world.
Pre field trip
Given a list of organisms with common names that illustrate the confusion that could
result if they were used for identification, students will use their imagination
to draw one or more "fantasy trees" using the common name as a guide. For example,
a palm tree could be drawn in the shape of a hand or the bat tree could have leaves that
are bats. Students are only limited by their imaginations--the wilder the better.
At field location
The students then must locate the organism(s) that they drew a fantasy picture of
and sketch the real organism for comparison. They should try to discover the characteristic
that is responsible for the common name.
- A display of the contrasting drawings could be arranged.
- Students could tell the class about their organism(s).
- Students could research the pseudo Latin or Greek roots of the genus and species
names, and try to discover the characteristic that is responsible for the scientific
- An activity of this sort could be used when learning about different ecosystems.
Library investigation could be substituted for the field trip.
- Given a list of Latin and Greek root meanings the students could construct "new"
species names for groups of organisms that are the current objects of study. The
"new" species names could be a better representation of structure and function of
the organisms than the officially approved names. Students could defend their "new" names
to a class-appointed scientific board.
The following list was constructed for a field trip to a specific exhibit. Most exhibits
are happy to provide you with a list of display organisms. Then you only have to
do a little library work to match up common and scientific names, or the library
work could be a student responsibility.
"What's in a Name?"
LIST OF PLANTS TO BE FOUND AT THE EXHIBIT
SCIENTIFIC NAME . . . COMMON NAME . . . EXHIBIT LOCATION
Acalypha wilkesiana. . . Beefsteak plant . . . Pacific islands
Adiatum caudatum . . . Walking fern . . . Rain forest
Anthruium scherzerlanum . . . Pigtail anthurium . . . Cloud forest
Aristolochia grandiflora . . . Dutchman's pipe . . . Rain forest
Asplenium nidus . . . Birdsnest fern . . . Rain forest
Atriplex nummularia . . . Salt bush . . . Desert
Brassaia actinophylla . . . Umbrella tree . . . Rain forest
Callistemon lanceolatus . . . Bottlebrush tree . . . Palm house
Carludovica palmata . . . Panama Hat plant . . . Rain forest
Clerondendron thomasonae . . . Bleeding heart . . . Rain forest
Clusia rosea . . . Playing card plant . . . Rain forest
Coffea arabica . . . Coffee plant . . . Cloud forest
Datura candida . . . Angel's trumpet . . . Cloud forest
Dryopteris lepida . . . Shield fern . . . Pacific islands
Euphorbia ingens . . . Candelabra tree . . . Desert
Ficus elastica . . . Rubber tree . . . Rain forest
Freycinetia arborea . . . Rat tree . . . Pacific islands
Heliconia humilis . . . Lobster claw . . . Rain forest
Neodypsis lasteliana . . . Teddy bear palm . . . Palm house
Rhus verniciflua . . . Varnish tree . . . Himalayas`
Tacca chantrieri . . . Bat flower . . . Rain forest