What’s in a name?
For many years, I kept what I referred to as a “rosie” or “rose hair” tarantula, and I introduced it as such to any family members or friends who would show an interest in my unique pet. It wasn’t until years later that, while searching for the lifespan of rosies (mine was pushing 20 at this point), I stumbled upon its scientific name, Grammostola porteri.
Cool, I though, as I wondered why on earth anyone would ever want to use such a cumbersome name. After all, “rosie” had a warm and fuzzy feel to it, and it was certainly easier to say. As I continued my search, the scientific name was quickly off my lips and out of my mind.
It would be several more months (and many Ts later) that I began my quest to actively work to learn these scientific names. Part of this new-found drive came from the frustration I was facing when I searched for information on unfamiliar species. I was also starting to get many of the names mixed up, as some are quite similar (God, how many bird eaters are there?). Then, there came the hassle of trying to shop for Ts when they were all listed alphabetically by scientific name.
And, if I’m going to be honest, I was really falling in love with the hobby, and I wanted desperately to be able to converse with colleagues using the proper lexicon.
It wasn’t easy at first, and I found myself repeatedly mixing up my Brachypelmas, Grammostolas, and Avicularias. However, learning is always easier when you’re engrossed and motivated by the subject, and I was soon finding that the scientific names were rolling off my tongue with relative ease and confidence.
Scientific names; not just for “elitists”!
I’ve seen folks bristle when they ask a question of the forums using a common name, and other keepers immediately remind them to use the scientific name. Nobody likes to feel stupid, and unfortunately hobbyist have a tendency to be a bit blunt when making suggestions. Although I certainly don’t condone elitist behavior (there is always a nice and constructive way to correct or remind someone), I do understand some of the frustration. The fact is, those seriously into the hobby don’t know the common names. Many of them would love to help out, but they aren’t sure which species are being referred to.
Our wonderful hobby has a language all to its own, and for keepers to have productive discourse, we all need to be speaking that language. Every hobby, be it sports, art, collecting, martial arts, herpetology, or even beer brewing, has its own terminology and jargon. Part of the fun of participating in a hobby is mastering not only the activities and techniques, but also the common language that goes along with it.
Much of the common language in the tarantula hobby just so happens to be a bit more … well … scientific. And that can be intimidating, especially for folks who don’t have a background in zoology or Latin. But as someone who, not that long ago, had to consult Google for the common name for an “ornamental spider”, I can tell you that it feels great when you master these names.
Why are scientific names important?
Let’s take a moment to consider when and where these names become important to the budding or established hobbyist.
Most reputable dealers will list spiders alphabetically by scientific name first. Shopping was always a blast when I first got into the hobby, as I was only familiar with some of the common names. For example, I knew I really wanted one spider referred to by the common name of “Greenbottle Blue” and another called a “Salmon bird eater.” So, I put together a list of several dealers I might buy from and started price and size checking for these species. Unfortunately, all of the tarantulas on these sites were listed under their scientific names.
Chromata-what? Lasio-huh? What the heck were those?
After perusing the photos, looking for something that resembled the spider pics I had drooled over, I realized that it would be much easier if I just researched the scientific names for these two species and kept them nearby. I began keeping a journal of sorts in which I would list the scientific names first, then the common names in an effort to learn these more difficult monikers. When I searched an online store for a species I was interested in, I’d play a little game and try to remember the scientific name without looking. I would often have to cheat at first, but it got much easier as the months passed and my collection grew.
Experienced keepers use scientific names, and many are not familiar with the common names. If you find yourself posting a question on a message board or approaching an experienced keeper for advice, it’s always much more efficient and helpful if you can use the scientific name. The fact is, many of these gals and guys have been using scientific names for so long that they no longer remember many of the common names. And if you’ve spent time on the boards, some folks have little tolerance or use for these informal labels. If you want to be taken seriously, it’s always best to use the scientific names when asking for help.
Personally, I know that many folks just entering the hobby have not familiarized themselves with the nomenclature for the tarantula hobby, so I’m not at all put off when folks ask questions using the common names. I have, however, had to take to Google a couple times to look up a common name to see what species they were talking about!
To properly search for quality information on a species, it’s important to use the scientific name. This is particularly important when searching for less common species. Whether you’re using Google or the search function of Arachnoboards, if you’re looking for quality care tips from some of the folks that actually keep the spiders, then you will find so much more by using the scientific name. This is especially true for forums, which can contain some of the most current and accurate information. Folks posting on the boards rarely use the common names to refer to their animals, therefore, a search for the common name might filter many important threads out.
Many species share common names, and others don’t have common names at all. Last year when I went to write my husbandry article on my Lasiodora itabunae, I hopped online to Google the common name. What did I find? Well, there really isn’t one. After going through several pages, I found someone who referred to it as a “Amazon Fire Hiney”, or something equally silly and unbelievable, but no real consistent name. The fact is, there are many tarantulas out there that have no common names, or multiple ones. Acanthoscurria geniculata, for example, is referred to as “The White Knee”, “The Brazilian White Knee”, “Brazilian White Banded Bird Eater”, “Black and White Bird Eater”, “Giant White Knee,” and several other names.
Plus, some common names are so similar, it’s easy to confuse them. I remember searching up information for a B. smithi by its common name, Mexican redknee. Unfortunately, I kept getting it confused with Mexican flame knee (B. auratum) and spent hours reading up on a similar, but ultimately the wrong, species.
In the case of scientific names, there is only one assigned per species, so you don’t have to worry about the overlap (or not finding one at all).
And, a little tip…
Those who use common names for care sheets or for listing tarantulas for sale are often not very knowledgeable. Incidentally, if you find a pet store or dealer who only lists the species using their common names, I would avoid buying from them. This is surefire indication that said retailer does NOT know much about tarantulas, and all bets are off as to if the species is even the correct one. Recently, Petco has been selling “rosies” that are actually not G. rosea or porteri, but Phormictopus cancerides. This would be a bit like buying a house cat and getting a tiger.
Likewise, I’ve seen many “keepers” offering up care sheets in which they refer only to a species common name (or, put the scientific name second). That’s a great indication that this person has not been in the hobby long, and I would be very skeptical taking any type of advice from this individual.
Bottom line, common names are fun when you first start out and are okay when used to introduce family and friends to the animals (although, I usually use the scientific names as well). As many contain the name of the area the spider is found, they can also be helpful for folks to understand and remember where they come from. However, as your collection swells and you make the move to becoming a true hobbyist, it’s time to make the switch to the hobby-accepted scientific names.
As always, there are some exceptions to the rule.
Are there some species where it’s acceptable to use common or nicknames. Absolutely. P. murinus is commonly referred to as the “OBT”, and folks immediately know what spider you’re talking about when you break out that acronym. The C. cyaneopubescens is commonly referred to as the GBB (for greenbottle blue), even by experienced hobbyists. The L. parahybana is often referred to as an LP; again, most everyone accepts this informal name.
Okay, I’ve learned the names … but how the heck do I pronounce them?
This is where it gets fun, as if we’re keeping it real, no one is quite sure of the correct pronunciation of many of these names. Most folks were not “fortunate” enough to take Latin in high school or college, and those that did often pronounce the names differently. Also, besides Latin, many of the scientific names also have Germanic, Greek, and other roots (as the species is often named for the person that discovered it or the geographical location it was found in). This means in some instances, a truly “correct” pronunciation might not exist, and we’re left with generally accepted ones.
Take T. stirmi for example. I have heard it pronounced stir-ME and stir-MY, and both seem to be acceptable. Same with the B. smithi, which I’ve heard pronounced as smith-EE and smith-EYE. Then there is the genus Poecilotheria, pronounced as Pea-see-luh-THEE-rea. However, due to its popular nickname “pokie” (POE-key), folks often pronounce it as Poke-ee-luh-THEE-rea. To complicate things even further, American pronunciations are often different than the British ones.
Have a headache yet?
Anyone who has spent time perusing the many clips posted on YouTube of keepers talking about their tarantulas have probably heard the names pronounced a variety of ways. The fact is, if you are in the ballpark, no one is going to give you a difficult time.
If you’re interested in learning how some pronounce these names, you can check out this page on The American Tarantula Society site. It’s a bit outdated and incomplete, but it makes for a fun starting point.
Or, you can click on the link below for a printable PDF version:
And if you read one of these and find that you were pronouncing it differently, don’t beat yourself up. This is just one person’s interpretation; who knows if it could even be called “correct”!