May 21st, 2012

old-skool: science!

Pycnogonids, or Why You Should Respect Your Archivist

This is for [personal profile] oursin and ginasketch in particular.

The bloke's father is a (sort of) retired mathematician who studies fish populations. In his less retired days, he traveled about on trawlers with fishermen and other scientists, including those who specialise in cataloguing species. One of these colleagues told him a story* about sea spiders, or pycnogonids. Most of them have four pairs of legs, just like land spiders. This being the ocean and all, though, someone eventually discovered a species with five pairs of legs, which they promptly named after themselves.

Of course, it wasn't long until another group of scientists found a sea spider with six pairs of legs. They wrapped up their specimen carefully, returned to their institution and presented it to the taxonomist.

"We'd like to register a name for this species," they said, handing her the appropriate form.

She slid her half-moon glasses down to the end of her nose and read the name aloud. "Sextonymphon enthusiastica."

She looked up sternly at the scientists, who were now openly sniggering like schoolboys. "Gentlemen," she said. "You are mixing your Latin and your Greek."

She handed back the form and steadfastly ignored them until they stopped gaping and went away.

* Story may be apocryphal. But you all know the saying about truth and good stories.