What is the longest scientific name?
Taxonomy does not often get into the news, but last month a new species of myxobacterium found in Wales made the rounds [see the original description at https://academic.oup.com/gbe/advance-article/doi/10.1093/gbe/evaa212/5918458]. It was found in and named for Llanfairpwllgwyngyll (which is usually abbreviated as Llanfairpwll or Llanfair PG or lengthened as Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch). The authors decided to use the lengthened place name as their epithet with the standard place suffix -ensis and there we have a scientific binomial counting 73 letters. The previous record was the name of a soldier fly from Southeast Asia with a mere 42 letters, so this made the news, not because it may have been surprising that a new species of Myxococcaceae was found in a well-studied area like Wales, but because it has the longest name. Of course it is not the first time a scientific name made it into the new. Even the father of binomial nomenclature, Carolus Linnaeus, coined names like Phallus impudicus for a similarly shaped fungus, and Clitoria ternatea for a suggestive species of pea, which caused a stir among scientists at the time.
As a botanist, this made me wonder what the longest plant name would be, and after sifting away a few hybrids in which parts of genus names are 'glued' together to form the nothogenus, like ×Crepidiastrixeris denticulatoplatyphylla (39 letters) or artificial intergeneric orchid hybrids like ×Brassolaeliocattleya (pretty long with 20 characters), and after rejecting the lengthy Austrocephalocereus dolichospermaticus, simply because it is now in the much shorter genus Micranthocereus, we end up with 38 letters for the tiny bulbous plant Ornithogalum adseptentrionesvergentulum. If you grow this in a pot, the label with the name on it will probably have to be longer than the plant itself!
My personal records are Campyloneurum albopunctatissimum (Lellinger) Christenh. with 31 letters, Hymenophyllum filmenofilicum Christenh. & Schwartsb. with 27 and the shortest name I coined is Kewa acida (Hook.f.) Christenh. with nine letters, which is only slightly longer than the shortest plant name Poa fax.
Nevertheless, names are a lot longer in many animals with the fly Parastratiosphecomyia stratiosphecomyioides topping the list with 42 letters. The record for shortest names are also found among Animalia, with the bat Ia io and the theropod Ya qi with only four letters each. Giving a long name to an animal is tricky though, because it is not recommended in the Zoological code of nomenclatural and there has been a precedent in rejecting such long names. Under the bacterial and botanical code there do not seem to be such worries.
Here is the list of record holders, although if I have missed any, feel free to let me know.
Maarten Joost Maria Christenhusz
[my 29 letters are available for use in a scientific name in case you intend to make this list 😜]
List of longest scientific species binomials.
Myxococcus llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis - Family Myxococcaceae. [Llanfair PG myxobacterium]
This is the longest scientific name published in 2020, based on bacteria extracted from soil collected at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Anglesey, Wales, one of the longest place names in the world. It is the longest scientific name of any organism and it will be one that is hard to beat, unless someone finds a species in Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahuin New Zealand!
Gammaracanthuskytodermogammarus loricatobaicalensis Dybowski, 1927 and 46 letters Siemienkiewicziechinogammarus siemenkiewitschii Dybowski, 1927 - amphipods
The above names were ones the longest scientific names, proposed by Polish naturalist Benedykt Dybowski for amphipods from Lake Baikal, but the names were invalidated by the ICZN soon after they were published, because they were considered unwieldy. The same publication also included the equally lengthy Rhodophthalmokytodermogammarus cinnamomeus Dybowski, 1927 (41 letters), Toxophthalmoechinogammarus toxophthalmus Dybowski, 1927 (39 letters), Zienkowiczikytodermogammarus zienkowiczi Dybowski, 1927 (39 letters), Parapallaseakytodermogammarus abyssalis Dybowski, 1927 (38 letters), Crassocornoechinogammarus crassicornis Dybowski, 1927 (37 letters) and Cancelloidokytodermogammarus loveni Dybowski, 1926 (34 letters) all invalidated names for amphipods from Lake Baikal.
Parastratiosphecomyia stratiosphecomyioides Brunetti, 1923 - family Stratiomyidae Southeast Asian soldier fly
This species of fly from Thailand is the longest scientific name for any animal.
Ophiognomonia clavigignentijuglandacearum (Nair, Kostichka, & Kuntz) Broders & Boland - Class: Sordariomycetes
Butternut canker is a lethal fungal disease of butternut trees, Juglans cinerea. It was described as Sirococcus clavigignenti-juglandacearum, which was with 37 letters already long, but now that it is moved to the genus Ophiognomonia, it became the third longest accepted binomial. Even though it was originally described from North America, it is suspected to originate from East Asia.
Notiocryptorrhynchus punctatocarinulatus - Coleoptera.
This weevil has one of the longest names, but I have not verified the original publication and I cannot find much information about it online, apart from that the name is long. This weevil remains a little mysterious.
× Crepidiastrixeris denticulatoplatyphylla Kitam. - family Asteraceae.
This daisy relative from Japan is arguably the longest plant name, but it is a hybrid and depending on the taxonomy applied can be treated as part of the genus Crepidastrum and is then a synonym of the much shorter Crepidiastrum × nakaii H.Ohashi & K.Ohashi
Austrocephalocereus dolichospermaticus Buining & Brederoo - Family Cactaceae
This cactus from Bahia and Minas Gerais, Brazil could be the longest name if the genus Austrocephalocereus was still accepted, but it is usually treated as Micranthocereus dolichospermaticus(Buining & Brederoo) F.Ritter, which has a mere 33 letters
Kimmeridgebrachypteraeschnidium etchesi Fleck & Nel, 2003 - Aeschnidiidae
This is a fossil dragonfly found in the Jurassic of Kimmeridge Bay, United Kingdom.
Ornithogalum adseptentrionesvergentulum U.Müll.-Doblies & D.Müll.-Doblies - family Asparagaceae.
This tiny bulbous monocot from South Africa has the longest plant name.
Parapropalaehoplophorus septentrionalis Croft, 2007 - family Chlamyphoridae
This fossil glyptodont was found in Miocene deposits from Chile.
Archaeohystrichosphaeridium cuspidatum B.V.Timofeev - unassigned family possibly belonging to the unranked clade Acritarcha
A fossil dinoflagellate of Cambrian age. Little is known about these fossil algae, but Dr Timofeev was productive, with 82 species placed in this lengthy genus, although only the type species is currently accepted.
Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus (Zeikus & Wolfe 1972 ) - Family Methanobacteriaceae
The smaller the organism the longer the name, one might think. This is another bacterium, and as the name says, this is one is methane producing and creates its own heat (thermautotrophic). It is used in the biotechnological industry for the creation of biogas.
Micropachycephalosaurus hongtuyanensis Dong, 1978 -Suborder Ceratopsia.
Found in fossil deposits at Laiyang Train Station in China, this was a ground dwelling herbivorous dinosaur that lived in the Cretaceous, 89.3 to 84.9 million years ago.
Prolasioptera aeschynanthusperrottetii Mani, 1943 - Family: Cecidomyiidae
This tiny gall midge was found only on the Gersneriaceae Aeschynanthus perrottetii.
Pseudorhabdosynochus magnisquamodiscum (Aljoshkina, 1984) - Family Diplectanidae.
This is a small monogenean flatworm parasitic on the gills of fish.
Pseudotyrannochthonius undecimclavatus (Morikawa, 1956) - Family Pseudotyrannochthoniidae
A Japanese species of pseudoscorpion.
Thermodesulfobacterium hydrogeniphilum Jeanthon et al., 2002 - Thermodesulfobacteriaceae
As the name describes, this is a sulfate-reducing bacterium, from which it derives all its energy. It is thermophilic, having an optimum growth around 70 degrees Celsius, and it is found on hydrothermic vents in the Indian Ocean.
Anaerobiospirillum succiniciproducens Davis, Cleven, Brown & Balish, 1976 - Family Succinivibrionaceae
These Gram-negative, anaerobic, motile, spiral-shaped bacteria and are part of the normal gastrointestinal flora of dogs and cats and can rarely also infect humans. It is poorly known and not common, but with a death-rate in humans of up to 30% it is potentially lethal.
Cryptodidymosphaerites princetonensis Currah, Stockey & B. A. LePage 1998 (Eocene fungus)
Now here is an interesting find. This is a hyperparasitic fossil fungus found in Canadian chert deposits. It was a fungus parasitising a fungus that grew on a palm leaf, not something often preserved in the fossil record.
Griseotyrannus aurantioatrocristatus d'Orbigny & Lafresnaye, 1837 - Family Tyrannidae
The crowned slaty flycatcher hold the record of longest scientific binomial for any bird.
The name means 'orange black crested grey tyrant' and is found in Amazonian forests.
Stigmatodactylus dalagangpalawanicum A.S.Rob. - Orchidaceae
This small orchid growing to 8 cm tall is endemic to the island of Palawan in the Philippines. The name derives from Tagalog dalaga ng Palawan, the 'maiden of Palawan', referring to the pretty plants, a name now adopted by the local Tagbanua tribe for the plant.
Weberbauerocereus cephalomacrostibas (Werderm. & Backeb.) F.Ritter - Cactaceae
A cactus named for August Weberbauer, a German botanist who was director of the botanic garden in Lima. The species occurs in Peru and often grows with other columnar cacti in rocky places. It has ferocious spines and pretty pinkish-white flowers.
Gryllotalpa septemdecimchromosomica Ortiz, 1958 - Family Gryllotalpidae
Le courtillière provençale is a species of mole cricket from southern France and adjacent Spain. It is one of the cryptic species in the European mole cricket group (the name derived from Latin gryllus, a cricket, and talpa, a mole) but with an unusual number of seventeen chromosomes.
Lagenivaginopseudobenedenia tinrowi Timofeeva, 1995 - Family Capsalidae
With its disc-shaped haptor, this monogenean flatworm attaches to the gills of deep water red snapper Etelis carbunculus, a fish that is found in the Indian Ocean. The nomenclature is interesting. There was the genus Benedenia Diesing, 1858, another fish parasite in the same family named for Belgian parasitologist Pierre-Joseph van Beneden. Many genera in Capsalidae were named for him, including Pseudobenedenia Johnston, 1931. The distinctive feature of this genus is a “lageniform vagina, between uterus and right intestinal limb, opening almost midventrally behind cirrus pouch”, which resulted in this lengthy genus name.
Leucospermum hypophyllocarpodendron (L.) Druce - Family Proteaceae
Gruisslangbossie in Afrikaans or grey snakestem pincushion in English is a low-growing shrub from South Africa that grows long snake-like branches that lie on poor sandy soils. Its flowers are rose-scented and clustered in yellow heads.
Luopingocoelacanthus eurylacrimalis Wen et al., 2012 and Yunnancoelacanthus acrotuberculatus Wen et al., 2012 - Order Coelacanthiformes
Fossil coelacanth are not common and when in two new species were found in the Triassic Luoping formations in Yunnan, China, Wen and colleagues gave them new names. Coincidentally, they both counted exactly 34 letters, so they both made it in the list of long species names.
Pterodactylus crocodiliocephaloides Ritgen, 1826 - Family Pterodactylidae
"Why can't you hear a pterodactylus on the toilet? Because their p is silent of course!".
The name of this pterosaur is composed of the Greek words for 'winged fingers' and with a 'crocodile-like head', this is not one of the first you would expect to find in the long-named list, but with 34 letters it just made it. Unfortunately, this is now generally considered a synonym of Pterodactylus antiquus, so this wonderfully long name is no longer in use.
Yamagutiplectognathotrema lobatum (Ozaki, 1937) Parukhin, 1977 - Family Zoogonidae
This was a new name for the trematode Plectognathotrematoides named by Satyu Yamaguti, which was not an available name because it was already in use for another species of trematode. It is a parasite of marine fish.
Rhodostemonodaphne capixabensis Baitello & Coe-Teix. - Family Lauraceae
This Brazilian tree of the laurel family has probably the longest genus name of any plant. They are evergreen tropical trees. The name is derived from its red stamens and the Greek nymph Daphne, who changed into a laurel bush.
Johannesteijsmannia perakensis J.Dransf. - Family Arecaceae
Botanists often mention this beautiful palm as one of the longest names, and it sure is a long genus name, but the epithets are all relatively short so it does not make the top of the list. The genus is named for Dutch botanist Johannes Teijsmann who worked in Java.
And finally a few of the shortest names.
Ia io Thomas, 1902 - Family Vespertilionidae
The great evening bat is the largest species of vespertilionid bat, reaching a length of just over a metre. It occurs in tropical Asia where it lives in limestone caves. Apart from being one of shortest scientific name of a living organism, it is also one of the few composed only of vowels. Ia is Greek for a shout, and Io was a priestess of Hera in classical mythology, and became one of the mortal lovers of Zeus. The species was named after her because she was a bit 'flighty'.
Yi qi Xu et al., 2015 - Family Scansoriopterygidae
This was a Jurassic theropod which had a strange elongated finger which stretched a piece of skin so that the animal could glide between trees. Yi qi [pronounched 'yee chee'] is derived from Mandarin, meaning strange wing.
Aha ha Menke, 1977 - Family Crabronidae
This species of Australian wasp was named as a joke by entomolist Arnold Menke. He mentioned later that it was named for his exclamation "Aha, a new genus", when he first saw the specimen, with fellow entomologist Eric Grissell doubtfully responding "ha". It is found in the Kununurra region in Western Australia.
Ja ana S.Ueno 1955 - Family Carabidae
This is a blind carabid from the Ja-Ana Cave near Gifu in southern Japan.
Poa fax J.H.Willis & Court - Family Poaceae
This Australian grass has as far as I know the shortest name. The orchid genus name Aa and the Asteraceae genus Io are shorter, but with their epithets they are all longer that humble Poa fax.