A couple of acquaintances–fellow dog owners whom we sometimes encounter up at the neighborhood middle school–both teach in the biological sciences at UC-Berkeley. This morning, one of them was complaining that incoming students don’t know some of the basics, such as the Linnaean taxonomy scheme (you know–the “genus/species” one that breaks down the world of living organisms into related groups). I’d have to plead guilty to that myself, though I’ve got some notion of how it works. Anyway, one of these teachers said there’s a well-known mnemonic aid for remembering the scheme and keeping its levels in order. It’s the phrase, “King Philip Came Over From Germany Stoned” (or alternately, “…Came Over From Germany Seeking Victory”). And the order the phrase prompts is: kingdom/phylum/class/order/family/genus/species/(variant).
Here’s an example of the scheme in action: the Pacific chinook (or king) salmon, also known as Oncorhynchus tshawytscha:
Species: Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
A favorite trivia bit related to this name: Although we think of the chinook salmon as one of the great, emblematic, wild species of North America’s Pacific coast (and the name chinook originated with a Columbia River tribe) , the species name “tshawytscha” actually comes from a native word for the fish on Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula. European biologists first encountered the fish there in the 18th century (the species names for chum, sockeye, and pink salmon as well as for steelhead trout also have roots in Kamchatka or Russia).
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