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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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A Fungus Named Hotlips

Posted by Richard Conniff on July 22, 2011

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the naming contest sponsored by The Guardian in the UK, which invites readers to give colorful “common” names to species only known by their scientific names.  So now this year’s list of the 10 winners is out.  A few of them seem a bit tinselly to me. And some of the entrants need a little help with their own online names:  Let’s just pass over trancegemeni, greenmeeny, and chatteringmonkey, and gag for a moment over the name Haggissouvlaki, which suggests someone has taken fusion cuisine a frying pan too far.

But never mind.  Take a look at a photo of the overall winner in the contest, and you will agree that Hotlips certainly fits:

A lurid orange fungus, previously only known by its forgettable scientific name, Octospora humosa, was dubbed 'hotlips' by Rachael Blackman from Swindon. (Photograph: Thomas Læssøe/MycoKey/Natural England)

The judges explained:  “‘Hot’ is a good description of its red-orange colour and this fungus often grows in tightly packed groups, causing them to curl together into shapes that closely resemble pairs of lips (and even when they are solitary they are disc-shaped with a lip around the edge). This species is also from a group of fungi called discomycetes or “discos” for short, and we loved the notion of a “hotlips disco.”

The name came from 12-year-old Rachael Blackman.

Here are the nine other winners:

Chrysis fulgida

Name a species competition : Chrysis fulgida

Winner
Shimmering ruby-tail – O. Holland

Runner-up
Sapphire-headed ruby wasp – loanna1301

Judges’ comments:  Chrysis fulgida is one of the most brightly coloured of all our wasps, and this name beautifully describes its metallic appearance in sunlight when it really can seem to “shimmer”.

Chrysotoxum elegans

Name a Species : Chrysotoxum elegans

Winner  Zipper-back – haggissouvlaki

Runner-up Elegant hover fly – Adriana Muga Forester

Judges’ comments: Many hoverflies are harmless mimics of honeybees, bumblebees or, as in the case of Chrysotoxum elegans, wasps. This name cleverly depicts the discontinuous, zipper-like bands across the abdomen of this fly, instead of the continuous bands of common wasps. ‘Zipper-back’ is just the kind of fun, descriptive name that should get adults and children alike looking more closely at these garden visitors.

Xerocomus bubalinus

Name a species competition : Xerocomus bubalinus

Winner Ascot hat – Pixcel

Runner-up  Linden rose bollette – PhilLamb

Judges’ comments:  This species has only been discovered in the UK recently, and the name “Ascot hat” provides the link to the place where it was first found (in Ascot) and reminds us of its hat-like shape. Of course many people also think of hats when they think of Ascot, and we liked this clever double meaning.

Lichenomphalia alpina

Name a species competition : Lichenomphalia alpina

Winner  Sunburst lichen – Halina Pasiecznik

Runner-up Boggart’s blanket – Trancegemini

Judges’ comments:  This lichen lives in peaty areas and looks just like a tiny burst of sunshine against the dark soil, so the name fits it perfectly.

Phallusia mammillata

Name a species competition : Phallusia mammillata

Winner  Neptune’s heart sea squirt – greenmeeny

Runner-up  Opal sea squirt – Pixcel

Judges’ comments:  This sea squirt is shaped very like a human heart, pumping sea water in through one siphon and out through another. As the largest of all the UK’s sea squirts, it seemed appropriate to name Phallusia mammillata after Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. We did wonder if it mattered that the species is a milky white instead of red, but we decided the heart of a sea god might be any colour.

 Coryphella browni

Name a species competition : Coryphella browni

Winner  Scarlet lady – TheJudderman

Runner-up  Sting wraith – dandav

Judges’ comments:   This species is certainly scarlet and, since it is a hermaphrodite (in other words, each individual contains male and female sexual organs) the “lady”
label is apt. But what we liked most is that “scarlet lady” implies something very beautiful but with a bit of a darker side, and this gorgeous sea slug certainly has a hidden sting: for its own protection, it recycles the stings from the jelly fish on which it preys.

Sagartiogeton lacerates

Name a species competition : Sagartiogeton lacertes

Winner  Fountain anemone – Martin Cox

Runner-up   Sneezing carrot – moregan

Judges’ comments:  This anemone has delicate translucent tentacles on the end of a more solid stalk, making it just like a fountain. The name suited it perfectly.

Ophiura albida

Name a species competition : Ophiura albida

Winner  Serpents’ table brittle star – Kmnaut

Runner-up  Twin-spot brittlestar – culbin

Judges’ comments:  This suggestion struck us as particularly ingenious. This species can be distinguished from all other brittle stars by the paired spots at the base of
each of its snake-like arms, giving the appearance of five snakes resting their heads on a table – the spots are like the snakes’ eyes. This name is both memorable and helps you identify the species, in other words just what we were looking for in a name.

 Nymphon gracile

Name a species competition : Nymphon gracile

Winner  Gangly lancer – TheAlnOwl

Runner-up  Lowry’s sea spider – chatteringmonkey

Judges’ comments:  This name made us laugh and brilliantly captured both this sea spider’s gangly nature and its large fang-like structures (actually called “chelifores”) at the front of its head.

 

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