The common, English names of our animals, plants and fungi are fascinating. They are a microcosm of our social history with a glorious mixture of ignorance, superstition and poetic beauty. The study of our relationship with the natural world is so much richer because of humans’ endless creativity and our joy in metaphors.
I’m walking along the Dead Run in Virginia when I spot this enormous millipede on a log:
It is such a beautiful insect, with glossy black segments with bright yellow and red edges. It has classic “I’m poisonous” warning colouration. I’m looking forward to identifying it.
Back home I find out it’s Apheloria virginiensis. It appears to have no common name at all. How is that possible? Has all creativity and metaphor deserted us?
It’s a classic poisonous species which stores cyanide as a deterrent to predators and advertised itself in glorious colours.
I take the Puffin Whisperer back to the spot to see if we can see it again. It’s exactly where it was. It’s dead.
What common name would you give it?