The Latin names of organisms fascinate me. There are few rules for naming, and naturalists and biologists often turn to the Greek and Roman myths for inspiration. Typhon was the “deadliest monster” in Greek mythology, and he was the father of Cerberus, the three-headed dog who was employed by Hades to guard the entrance of the underworld. Typhon was also the father of the Sphinx, who plagued the city of Thebes until Oedipus happened along and answered her riddle. Quite a distinguished family in the land of myths!
Mention of the Sphinx leads me by an admittedly circuitous route to the real subject of this post.
Recently I was visiting a friend, a single mother who is raising a six-year-old boy. This boy maintains and adds to a collection of curiosities: geological, cultural, and biological objects which he and his mother have spotted and brought home. The boy was showing me his latest acquisitions.
“Mom and I found this moth in the school parking lot! Isn’t it cool!”
The moth was dead and a bit deteriorated. The wing patterns fascinated me. I could tell that it was a sphinx moth, but I had never encountered that particular species before.
The next time I visited I had my camera with me. I shot this photo and, once I was home again, I looked up the species in a moth book.
The moth seems to be rare, but biological rarities turn up often in Southeast Arizona. I could find no common name for the creature, but I’m pretty certain that the Latin name is Eumorpha typhon. “Eumorpha” could be translated as “Good shape”, and Typhon, as related above, was the father of the Sphinx.
To me personal discoveries like this one are the essence of coolness. Greek mythology, whimsical biologists mining the myths for names, and a beautiful creature whose larvae live on wild grapes.
I’ll keep an eye on that boy, as he seems to have good luck finding interesting things!