Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Adventures in Nature

Force of Change Evolution
© Ade McO-Campbell / / CC-BY-SA-3.0
Hurrah! The Italian Co-Op is running another nature-based card-collecting thingamy, Avventure nella natura. Noemi liked the last one, with stickers, so we went so far as to buy the book to put them in this time. Trouble is that, unlike the last collection, which was a lot more international, this one is focused on Italy, so it’s harder to translate into English. Animals in other continents have names which are much easier to guess; you’d have to be a bit simple not to work out what a giraffa or an elefante is, but a picchio?

So, much to Monica’s despair, I set out to find the names for everything. It’s generally not difficult, what with wikipedia and all (you just have to keep an eye on the Latin taxonomy), but I found it quite interesting…

It’s satisfying when you can correct the dictionary; Hoepli calls a salamandra pezzata a spotted salamander, but it looks to me a lot more like a fire salamander, which is also a much more satisfying name! The libellula damigella still has me stumped though. You don’t find helpful hits for it in Google in Italian. Literally, you get “damsel/demoiselle dragonfly”. Does it just mean damselfly, generically? That’s different from a dragonfly. Anyway, there are specific ones called the beautiful demoiselle and the banded demoiselle. I can’t work it out.

I like the ones that you wouldn’t ever guess, and there are plenty of those: a colubro di riccioli is called Riccioli’s snake apparently, but also a southern smooth snake, which makes you wonder where all the rough snakes are hidden. North America and Australia, it would appear. Farnia is English oak (though oak is usually quercia) despite the fact that you can find it in most of Europe and it’s called French oak as well! Perhaps something to do with the Royal Oak. A ragno zebra should be a zebra spider, but you can see it isn’t. We reckon it looks more like a wasp. Speaking of spiders, I was surprised to learn that a water shrew in Italian is a toporagno d‘acqua, since toporagno is “spidermouse” (spidermouse, does whatever a spider… might espouse…). So why’s that then? They’ve only, “like many shrews”, got “venomous saliva, making it one of the few venomous mammals”! I never knew. Having followed the intriguing link, I shall never turn my back on a male platypus again! What goes by the name of saettone (“great big lightning bolt”) in Italian is a dignified “Aesculapian snake” in English. At some point I must work out how to pronounce that. Conversely, the humble newt (pace Gussie Fink-Nottle) is named for Triton in Italian (as are mermen) – tritone. An ofride verde–bruna (“green–brown ophrys”) is an early spider orchid round our way, because it looks like a spider. One who is early, presumably. A foca monaca mediterranea is obviously a Mediterranean monk seal, but shouldn’t it be a nun (monaca) seal? I think we should be told.

The Co-Op says there’s such a thing as a lupo appenninico, but apparently not everyone is so sure. I learnt another name for stick insects too: phasmid (and fasmidi in Italian). It’s from the Greek “φάσμα phasma, meaning an apparition or phantom”, which is a slightly more romantic notion than sticks. Putting the English name to a puma (yes, yes, I know) is harder than you might think; it has more than 40, which makes it a Guinness record-holder. I’d forgotten that there was a bird called a shag (tee hee!), but I didn’t realise that it was a kind of (crested?) cormorant (marangone [dal ciuffo]). I like cormorants. I like the fact that they stick their wings out heraldically to dry because their feathers aren’t waterproof so they can dive further into the sea. Wikipedia tells me that it was used as a symbol of the cross and reminds me (obviously I already knew – cough) that Milton’s Satan adopted the cormorant as a disguise. I also learnt of the rana pollo delle montagne: it’s a massive frog that the locals hunt for and call… a mountain chicken!

Satisfyingly, there is one – count them, one – animal with no translation. An Italian dog called a cirneco dell’etna. Voglio dire, mica si può tradurre tutto! There’s another dog in there called a pastore maremmano–abruzzese, but that’s a Maremma sheepdog; not sure what the abruzzesi make of that…

Monica reckons I enjoy this much more than Noemi. She might be right.
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