Confusing animals/Taxonomy Misconceptions

Sort of the opposite of thinking unicorns are real, I have encountered way too many adults who are utterly convinced that narwhals are a mythical creature. This maybe wouldn’t be too surprising except I live in Alaska!


Oh, I think the North American use of “terrapin” is even more tangled. North American (very terrestrial) box turtles are in the genus Terrapene, and that is indeed from a Native American word for various turtles, including, or primarily, the box turtles. Several accounts from 18th century colonial America use some version of “terrapin” for box turtles. The term was applied to some aquatic turtles as well. See Dodd et al. (2016) for details. The name seems to have been more restricted to the Diamondback Terrapin later, but I am not sure when that happened.
Fast forward to 1916, and Anna Botsford Comstock (Handbook for Nature Study, focusing on NE USA) calls the aquatic Painted Turtle the “Painted Terrapin” and the terrestrial Wood Turtle “Wood Terrapin”. She calls Eastern Box Turtles simply “Box-Turtle” and not terrapins at all.
A little more recently (1960’s suburban/rural Oklahoma) my parents and childhood friends called Eastern Box Turtles “terrapins” or “tortoises”, specifically. Aquatic species we called “turtles”. A friend of mine who grew up in rural Piedmont North Carolina during the same period also used the name “terrapin” for Eastern Box Turtle, but not for freshwater aquatic turtles. Complicated and inconsistent going way back!


Box turtles? Live in boxes? Even for English - that is lost in translation.

@awenninger no concerns about spreading diseases to local bees ?

I flounder around IDs that are done at ‘plant’ which iNat encourages. Moss ? Palm tree ? Rosebush ? Florist’s bunch of flowers ? Pot plant ?

They get their name from having a hinge that allows them to close up their shell, reminiscent of folding the flaps of a box (edit: or lid, like on a music box) to close it.


This was purely for eating, I would never ever give someone else’s honey back to my own honey bees as you never know how someone else has been managing their bees. There are some diseases that can be passed through honey though, like American foulbrood. I’m not finding good information about the impacts some of those diseases have on native bees, but it’s not a good idea to give native bees honey either.

Then there is the fact that because every turtle has a beak and can bite, some people call every turtle a snapping turtle.


An interesting update on this:
I have a biologist/naturalist friend who grew up on her family farm (eastern North Carolina) in the 1950’s. I asked about this issue and she inquired of an older sibling, whose childhood memories would be from the 1940’s. Their recollection was that their father called the smaller aquatic turtles “terrapins”. This would include the painted turtle mentioned by Comstock, but not snapping turtles. Box turtles were called simply that, and not terrapins. They did not live on the coast, so had no direct experience with the diamondback terrapin. This tradition is especially interesting because their father was much older, born in the 1870’s, I think. The family farm dates to the 1720’s, the beginning of European settlement in that area. So it looks good for “terrapin” referring originally to aquatic turtles, and not terrestrial box turtles. Still a puzzle is why the German zoologist Merrem bestowed the Latinized version Terrapene on the box turtles. There is a footnote in the original work (here) mentioning the use of “terrapin” by earlier authors. The introduction of the new genus Terrapene is a few pages later. I cannot quite make sense of the whole narrative with my basic Latin and nonexistent German, but it is fun to see the German zoologist quote English names for American turtles! I conclude that this topic deserves its own thread after I, or others, make a more careful reading of Merrem’s publication and Dodd’s discussion of the issue.
Edit. As others have mentioned, this has wandered enough to where it deserves a thread in a different forum if anyone wants to discuss it further.

Wow, even more shocking is the idea that they wouldn’t try to stop insects from being brought in! We have enough ecological disasters already from the unintentional importation of insects and other organisms, without them knowingly turning a blind eye.

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TIL: Diving Ducks and Dabbling Ducks are not taxonomic groups. I saw some ducklings that were either Wood Ducks or Mallards ID’d as “Anatidae,” and was shocked to learn I didn’t actually know a finer ID

Wood Ducks are tree ducks, which are usually considered a different group than the dabbling ducks.

They are taxonomic groups, just not ones that fit into the Linnean system.

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A lot of times things like fruit or plants are restricted due to potential for bringing in ag pests but in general I’m not sure that they would stop someone from bringing an insect, or that they would even really notice if someone had an insect in their bag? The nursery trade also moves a lot of insects around, here in AK we have several insects that occur on ornamental plants that are not native here.

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Not surprisingly, box turtles do not live in boxes.

They are tortoises who live on land, and they are called box turtles because part of the shell of the animal is hinged, so it somewhat resembles a box.

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