12 October 2010

Like a virginalis, named for the very first time

ResearchBlogging.orgThe new paper by Martin and colleagues is a significant one for the Marmorkrebs research community, because it seems to settle the problem of the species most closely related to Marmorkrebs pretty definitively. Marmorkrebs are most closely related to slough crayfish, Procambarus fallax. The picture at right compares the two; P. fallax is on top (Fig. 1 from Martin et al.)

It’s also noteworthy for being the first to tackle the thorny issue of a species name for Marmorkrebs. Martin and colleagues suggest Marmorkrebs be treated as a “form” of P. fallax, and suggest referring to Marmorkrebs as P. fallax f. virginalis. They leave open the possibility that Marmorkrebs might warrant having its own name. If that were to happen, they suggest it become Procambarus virginalis.

It’s pretty easy to guess that the word “virginalis” is derived from the same root as the word “virgin.” This is clearly a nod to Marmorkrebs’ parthenogenetic reproduction.

But “virginalis” has also been used more than once to describe a species as “white.” And one etymology used “virginalis,” somewhat prudishly, to describe a species with a “cross-legged” appearance.

Now, if I’d written the paper, I’d have suggested the scientific name be “marmoratus,” which is Latin for “marbled.” It ties into the common names for them, marbled crayfish and Marmorkrebs. And it wouldn’t risk anyone thinking that these were white crayfish.

Because “forms” are not recognized by the international committee that oversees scientific names for animals, it’s an open question at this point as to whether this naming scheme will be adapted by the community. I think continuing to use “Marmorkrebs” in addition to the name suggested by Martin and colleagues (or some variant of it) will continue to serve the research community well, for reasons I discussed here. Not only is “Marmorkrebs” distinctive, it can now provide some important continuity in the scientific literature and in search engines.

Additional: Co-author Gerhard Scholtz emailed me with this comment:

(“virginalis”) literally means “related to a virgin.” The Latin words for white are different. Only later in Christian symbolism is the white lilly a sign for the immaculate Mary (immaculate conception) and in addition for giving birth as a virgin. Immaculate conception means that Mary was born without the “original sin” (inherited from from Adam and Eve) not that she gave virgin birth, this is often confused. So the use of “virginalis” for white is very indirect. If we would have chosen “marmoratus”, and we considered this, then the characteristic
difference to P. fallax, which is also marbled, would have been given

And I fully understand the reluctance to use “marmoratus,” which is the same reason I advocate “Marmorkrebs” over “marbled crayfish.” There are an awful lot of crayfish with some sort of marbled colouration.


Martin P, Dorn NJ, Kawai T, van der Heiden C, Scholtz G. 2010. The enigmatic Marmorkrebs (marbled crayfish) is the parthenogenetic form of Procambarus fallax (Hagen, 1870) Contributions to Zoology 79(3): 107-118. http://www.ctoz.nl/ctz/vol79/nr03/art03

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