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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Fifty Shades of Red

Not really one of my intermittent series on colours in nature - though I'll come back for another of those soon enough - but rather in the footsteps of an earlier posting wherein I explored some of the often ingenious ways that taxonomists have come up with to describe, or sometimes just imply, black in a name. The field would seem to be even more wide open with red, since there is technically only one black, whereas we use 'red' loosely to cover a range of shades or even colours.

In the illustrations I've used here, we can see that taxonomists have not only used a variety of ways to describe red and similar colours, but have often used the same word to describe what we would probably see as very different colours. However to be fair, basic Latin words for red, notably rufus and ruber, meant either red or reddish when used by the Romans too. For instance, Red Kangaroo Paw and Rufous Treecreeper share the same species name (allowing for gender endings), but are not at all the same colour.
Red Kangaroo Paw Anigozanthus rufus, south-west Western Australia.

Rufous Treecreeper Climacteris rufa, Porongurup NP, Western Australia.
Ruber likewise means either red or reddish; here are some examples from each of three biological kingdoms!
Starfish or Stinkhorn Fungus Aseroe rubra.Found throughout eastern Australia and much of the Pacific,
this species apparently mimics an open wound,
in smell as well as appearance, to attract flies which disperse the spores!
Escallonia rubra, Family Escallionaceae, Salto Petrohue, southern Chile.
Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda, nesting on Lady Elliott Island, Queensland.
Here the species name means exactly the same as the English name.
And for hedging bets, it would be hard to go past the next one, whose name potentially at least means 'reddish-ish'.
Blushing Tiny Greenhood Orchid Pterostylis (Speculantha) rubescens, Black Mountain, Canberra.
The Greek equivalent is eruthros/erythros, which also appears in both plant and animal names.
Red Bloodwood Eucalyptus erythrophloia, Cooktown, tropical Queensland.
The allusion is, like the common name's, to the wood, literally 'red-wood'.
(This is not the only eucalypt referred to as Red Bloodwood by the way.)
Red-kneed Dotterel Erythrogenys cinctus, Diamantina River, far western Queensland.
This time it's the genus name containing red, in combination, thus 'red-kneed' like the common name.
(And no, it's not really the knee, but we can discuss that another time.)
This single-species genus evolved on the inland waterways as Australia dried out in the last few million years.
Other words used have more specific meanings in the original, though this hasn't always apparently reflected the organism described. For instance kokkinos is the Greek (in transliteration) for scarlet, generally agreed to be a bit on the orange side of red.
Notro Embothrium coccineum Family Proteaceae, Torres del Paine NP, southern Chile.

Scarlet Banksia Banksia coccinea Family Proteaceae, near Albany, Western Australia.
Both these examples are pretty fair renderings of the colour as we understand it, but this isn't always the case when the Greek phoenicius is employed. This is usually translated as purplish-red, or even violet, so these examples might seem surprising.
Flame Robin Petroica phoenicia, Namadgi National Park near Canberra.
Here the common name seems more appropriate.
Bottlebrush Callistemon phoenicus, Cape le Grande NP, Western Australia.
Perhaps this one is a bit closer to the intent.
Then there are names based on allusion or analogy. The Latin ferrugineus refers to rusty iron, and some of the applications of this one again seem unexpected.
Diplolaena ferruginea Family Rutaceae, Badgingarra NP, Western Australia.
I guess here it depends on whether the author was looking at the more obvious red stamens
or the definitely rusty sepals.

Pimelea ferruginea, Woody Island, Western Australia.
I find this one distinctly odd! (The name, not the delightful flower.)
Andean Ruddy Duck Oxyura ferruginea, El Calafate, Argentina.
This one seems pretty unequivocal.
Austral Parakeet Enicognathus ferrugineus, Chilean Patagonia.
While it might seem a little strange to name the entire bird 'rusty' for the tail, the colour seems convincing enough.
This parrot is found further south than any other, way down to about 52 south, at the tip of South America.
Likewise the implication of the Latin sanguineus, bloody or blood-coloured, would seem pretty unequivocal, but not so it seems.
Dark-banded Greenhood Orchid Pterostylis sanguinea, Perth.
Maybe dried blood?
However, in other places it has been much more obviously appropriately-used.
Scarlet Honeyeater Myzomela sanguinolenta, Cape Hillsborough NP, Queensland.
Here the derived word sanguinolenta implies 'blood-filled'.
Of course names usually tell us more about ourselves than the organisms, but it can be fun - and sometimes even instructive - to explore them. Not to mention an excuse to introduce you to some plants and animals you might not have been familiar with.


1 comment:

Susan said...

Red and yellow are terms used fairly loosely in taxonomy, not just in the names but in descriptions. It takes a while to get used to the fact that something described as having yellow bands, for example, might have brown bands, orange bands or red bands. The important piece of information is that there are bands of colour, and taxonomists learn that the actual colour will vary depending on the species, the specimen and its condition.