Sunday, January 9, 2011

Great for Parties

I’m sick, hence the paucity of my weekend posts. Still, I’m feeling a bit better at the moment (there’s always that afternoon rally), and I did want to put up just a little something. I’ve been meaning to post a couple of my most recent pictures of orangutan brachiation, and as I started to do so it occurred to me that brachiation is one of those words you don’t hear a lot (in fact, I just had to add it to my Word dictionary). This made me think of all of the cool words that are used with some regularity in the scientific community but are rarely used otherwise, and I thought I’d introduce you to—or remind you of—some of them today.

First, obviously, is “brachiate,” which means to swing from branches, ropes, etc., using your arms. This is a primate trait that we don’t make a lot of use of ourselves, although our shoulders do allow us that range of movement, should you ever want to try.

There are plenty of other words, too, like:

Crepuscular – not a solely science-specific word, this adjective refers to twilight-y times or times with faint light; animals that live a “crepuscular lifestyle” are those that are active at dawn and dusk.

Eviscerate – which means to disembowel, but also, in the context of sea cucumbers, can be a self-imposed, temporary act; when pursued or attacked by predators, a sea cucumber can eviscerate itself—vomiting up its entire digestive tract and leaving it behind while it escapes. The cucumber eventually grows a new digestive system, but the would-be predator is, presumably, scarred for life.

Gonochoristic – this adjective refers to a species that has two separate sexes, like humans (note that this has nothing to do with gender). Hermaphroditic species, on the other hand, have members that are either both sexes at once or change from one sex to the other (but more on that another day).

Littoral – no, I don’t mean the opposite of figurative. The littoral zone is the area of shoreline that is covered and uncovered by tides. The sub-littoral zone would be the area that remains submerged even at the very lowest tide.

Nidicolous – now, that’s just silly! Actually, it’s an adjective for a species whose young spend a long time in the nest.

And two words that you’ve no doubt heard but that you may not know how to spell:
Pheromone (chemical cues released by one member of a species and sensed by other members of the same species) and desiccate (to dry out).

Next time you’re at a party, try introducing one of these words into the conversation! I guarantee it’ll brighten up the room.

{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}


rebecca said...

I know I would definitely be scarred for life if something I was about to eat vomited up its entire digestive system in front of me, yes.

Related to "crepuscular," even "diurnal" is an unfamiliar word for most of my students. If I ask them to guess the opposite of nocturnal they all say "dayturnal," which I suppose is a good guess. Admittedly they are mostly fifth-graders.

Anca said...

If you're a reader of Baudelaire--in the original--some of these words, being Latinate, are not unfamiliar--crepuscular, desiccate, littoral. But I'll be happy to throw in "gonochoristic" and "brachiate" in the conversation, possibly at the Policy meeting I have to attend today :). I'll report on the results.

By the way, spellcheck offered me "laminate" for the erroneous Latinate:).

Get well today!

biobabbler said...

=) Nice word shot, thanks! Love language. I saw/heard someone say that there is no real reason for using the word crepuscular, it's just showing off. CLEARLY that person is NOT a biologist. I would not, however, recommend the sea cucumber trick if you want to get invited back to a party.

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