When early naturalists came to the Americas, they radiated from the first colonies out over the landscape. They encountered and described species first in the Carolinas, the Virginias, Florida, Pennsylvania, and for many of the French naturalists, the hinterlands in Canada. These explorers left in their wake a plethora of species with names anchored in these places (though these species had ranges that spilled far beyond the areas for which they were named):
- Sciurus carolinensis (eastern gray squirrel)
- Odocoileus virginiana (white-tailed deer)
- Acer pensylvanicum (striped maple)
- Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch)
- Castor canadensis (American beaver)
- Thuja occidentalis (northern white cedar)
- Sylvilagus floridanus (eastern cottontail).
Usually the place names are the specific epithet, acting as an adjective that describes the genus. So Sciurus carolinensis is the tree squirrel who lives in the Carolinas. Because the place names are familiar to us, these are relatively early to spot and then translate. Those species named for a habitats can be a bit trickier, though you’re likely familiar with many of the roots so don’t despair!