Body Parts

Part IV in a VI part series

21 Patrons & Counting!!

Woohoo! We did it, we reached our first goal on Patreon! We’re now up to 21 patrons and counting. As a thank you, I’ve crafted a longer series on the seemingly impenetrable thicket of scientific names. So if you’ve ever struggled to remember Glaucomys volans or Lithobates sylvaticus, or if you’ve wondered what they heck those names mean, then you’re in luck. Of course, if you want to skip the details and jump right to translation, check out my dictionary of the scientific names: An Etymology of Vermont Vertebrates, which covers all of Vermont’s vertebrates. Otherwise follow along and learn how things are named and how to interpret what their names mean.

Morphonyms: Describing the body

Okay, now on to the big taxonomy show. As we saw in the last post, a suffix can help orient you to what the first part of the scientific name is telling you. You’ll (hopefully) remember that “-ensis” means from this place, so the first part should be a place name is in Impatiens capensis, the scientific name for jewelweed (oddly enough, capensis meant “of the cape” from the false assumption that it grew near the cape of South Africa; it’s too bad species names can’t be changed). So lets dig into the meat of a scientific name, first by looking at terms that refer to an animal’s body parts.

Largemouth bass, Micropterus macrochirus

Rood words for body parts

Morphonyms are scientific names that are based on the morphological appearance of an organism. These might reference an organism’s color, height, beak shape, size, or other prominent feature. Here’s a quick guide to the features of an animal (sorry botany nerds, I’m mostly ignoring plant names).

Body Part Root words found in the scientific name Examples
Head cephalus (G) Bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus



lophos (G)
crist (L)
capillus (L)
frons (L)
Blue jay, Cyanocitta cristata
Tufted titmouse, Baeolophus bicolor 
Nashville warbler, Oreothlypis ruficapilla
Greater white-fronted goose, Anser albifrons
Mouth stoma (G) Shorthead redhorse, Moxostoma macrolepidotum
Throat colli (L) Eared grebe, Podiceps nigricollis
ptera (G) Largemouth bass, Micropterus salmoides
Broad-winged hawk, Buteo platypterus
Tail oura (G) Green-tailed towhee, Pipilo chlorurus
Gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
Foot pus (G)
pes (L)
Rough-legged hawk, Buteo lagopus
Lesser yellowlegs, Tringa flavipes
Hand chiro (G)
mani (L)
Bluegill, Lepomis macrochirus
Deermouse, Peromyscus maniculatus

Brown-headed cowbird, Molothrus ater

Rood words for colors

Color Scientific Name Examples
Red erythro (G)
rufi (L)
Red-headed woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Bobcat, Lynx rufus
Golden chrysos (G)
aurum (L)
Golden eagle, Aquila chrysaetos
Ovenbird, Seiurus aurocapilla
Yellow xanthus (G)
flavus (L)
fulvus (reddish yellow, L)
Lesser yellowlegs, Tringa flavipes 
Yellow-headed blackbird, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
Cave swallow, Petrochelidon fulva
Green chloro (G)
virens (L)
viridesc (L)
Green-tailed towhee, Pipilo chlorurus
Black-throated green warbler, Setophaga virens
Green heron, Butorides virescens
Blue cyano (G)
caerule (L)
Blue-gray gnatcatcher, Polioptila caerulea
Blue jay, Cyanocitta cristata
Brown fuscus (sooty brown, G)
castanea (chestnut-brown, L)
Big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus
Bay-breasted warbler, Setophaga castanea
Black melano (G)
niger (L)
ater (dull black)
Black scoter, Melanitta americana
Black tern, Chlidonias niger
Brown-headed cowbird, Molothrus ater
White leuco (G)
albus (L)
Brown booby, Sula leucogaster
White-throated sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis


  1. An Etymology of Vermont Vertebrates by yours truly
  2. Borror’s Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms (pdf)
  3. Yoon’s Naming Nature
  4. Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names (free online)
  5. A good overview of the process for naming a new species (link)

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