Friday, 18 May 2012

How did the puffin get its name?

The other day I got to wondering… how did the puffin get its name? So one wet day I spent half an hour or so scouring the internet, trying to find the origins for the names of some of the seabirds that breed here.
 
Although puffins look more like clowns with their brightly coloured bills and orange feet, their latin name, Fratercula arctica, means "little friar of the north". Perhaps this is because the puffin’s black and white plumage looks a little like a friar’s robes? Or maybe it’s because of the way they run from their burrow, like a monk scurrying to cloisters?



The latin name of the Eider, Somateria mollissima, is very appropriate. Combining ‘soma’ (body), ‘erion’ (wool) and ‘mollissima’ (very soft), their latin name gives us “very soft body wool” - a perfect description of the down that they use to line their nests, and which we use to fill duvets and pillows.



The genus name for the fulmar, Fulmarus, comes from the Old Norse words ‘full’ (foul), and ‘mar’ (gull). “Foul-gull” might seem a bit harsh, but if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of fulmar regurgitate, you’ll understand where the name comes from! Fulmars produce a bright orange stomach oil that is a rich food source for their chicks; it also doubles as a defense mechanism. They vomit this foul smelling oil at predators to warn them off. So don’t get too close…. You have been warned!


Phalacrocorax aristotelis, otherwise known as the European Shag, has a bit of a misleading name. The scientific name is latinized Ancient Greek, and is a combination of phalakros (bald) and korax (raven) – the bald part of the name may refer to the cheek patches of the adults, whilst the raven part demonstrates the erroneous belief that the birds were corvids.  The common name, shag, simply refers to the bird's tuffed crest.

Paula, Summer Volunteer.

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