Boops Boops, Tasselled Wobbegong, and 8 Other Unbelievably Named Fish
Stripers, swordfish, sharks and tigerfish. What do they all have in common aside from being different types of fish? None of them are the proper names for those fish. Fish have two different types of names: the scientific name and the colloquial name.
Usually, when fish are named colloquially, multiple species of fish are encompassed in an umbrella term that describes them. Stripers and tigerfish are named for their stripes. The swordfish, technically named Xiphias gladius, was named after the fish’s long, sword-like snout.
Fish names are what taxonomists — people who name animals and other species — would call a bimodal nomenclature. This is a fancy way of saying that there are two names for every fish we know of. The first name is the fish’s genus and the second name is the fish’s species name. It’s like having your last name followed by your first. Typically, the genus name is capitalized and the species name is lowercase. It’s also typical for the genus name to be in Greek or Latin. In the second name, you’ll see a variety of other languages and influences.
It can be interesting to learn how or why a fish received its name, especially since there are some fish names that make you turn your head to the side in confusion or laugh. We have 10 of those fish here.
Boops…I did it again! This fish has been floating around in viral memes as of late for its outrageous name. The name might sound a little cartoony, but it’s actually the Greek word for “cow eyes.” Looking at these little Boops boops, it’s easy to see how their cow-like gaze can really “moove” a person. Boops boops can be found off the coasts of Europe, Africa, the Canary Islands, as well as in parts of the Mediterranean and Black Seas.
This is not a spell from Hocus Pocus. It’s a fish! This lumpy fish is often seen on its side, like in the photo below. Being on its side so often gives it a cycloptic vibe, hence its name. They can be seen in yellow, orange, white, and other colors. Most Cyclopterus lumpus are found in colder climates, like the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans, but the fish can be seen as far south as the Chesapeake Bay.
This creature’s scientific name is Eucrossorhinus dasypogon, but its colloquial name literally translates to “rug shark.” “Eucrossorhinus” can be broken down from the Greek words “eu,” which means good or nice, “krossoi,” which means tassel, and “rhinos,” which means nose. Additionally, “Dasypogon” is made up of the Greek words “dasys,” which means “hairy,” and “pōgōn,” which means “beard.”
“Wobbegong” is a fun one to say too and comes from the Australian First Nations word for “shark.” This makes sense because tasseled wobbegong are mostly found near coral reefs in places like Australia, New Zealand, and New Guinea. Basically, the name for the fish is “rug shark,” and we couldn’t agree more.
Sphyraena barracuda, also known as giant barracuda or great barracuda, has the stage name of an ’80s pop star. These subtropical-dwelling fish live up to their name. Sphyraena barracuda can grow to two feet long and weigh as much as 50 pounds in some cases. Their numbers have been declining in places like Florida — to the point where catching limits have been talked about but not acted upon. So, if fishing in Florida, maybe toss this one back if it bites your hook.
Peacock Mantis Shrimp
Odontodactylus scyllarus, better known as the peacock, rainbow, or harlequin shrimp, are only about 6 inches in length. This little one is named for its colors, because it gives the impression that it’s “peacocking” when it reveals its colors. But don’t let its size and pretty appearance fool you. This fish can jet to speeds up to 50 miles per hour, a speed comparable to a 22-long range bullet.
We love purple sea urchins here at Reference. While we have shown you a few species of fish that are currently being overfished, strongylocentrotus purpuratus, on the other hand, is an invasive species that’s currently experiencing overpopulation on the West Coast of North America. Eating uni, a seafood delicacy, could maybe shift fishing habits, cutting down on both the overfishing of other species and controlling this invasive species, thus creating a sense of balance in our seas.
Don’t blink — you might miss this one. This fish tank staple will eat most types of food flakes and really pops in a home aquarium. The natural habitat for these little ones is the Amazon Basin in places like Peru and Columbia. “Paracheirodon innesi” is their full name. Quite a big name for such a small fish. Neon tetra don’t typically grow beyond a length of 2 inches, which is perhaps why “Paracheirodon,” “hand” in Greek, is part of their name.
“Tinca tinca” sounds like a really fun game that your cool elementary school teacher lets the class play on alternating Fridays. These fish kind of look like bass with some catfish-like facial features, which is a reminder to name your fish correctly. Fish get mistaken for one another, so knowing the bimodal nomenclature of a fish in addition to its slang name, means you’re doing great.
Colloquially, people mostly refer to this one as “tench.” Despite being long enough to fit in an adult hand, tench are still a part of the “minnow” family. Interestingly, the tench’s main claim to fame is the ability to survive in low-oxygen environments, allowing it to thrive in places where even carp cannot. You won’t see many tench unless you’re in Western Europe or certain parts of Asia.
The Coryphaena hippurus is more commonly known as the dolphinfish. How it became associated with dolphins isn’t 100 percent clear, but most folks know this fish to be a staple in their seafood dishes. Mahi-mahi, for example, is an excellent source of protein with over 18 grams per 100 gram serving. Plus, it’s full of Omega-3 fatty acids, and only has about 85 calories per 100g serving. Found in places like the Gulf of Mexico and the Indian Ocean, and off the coast of Hawai’i and Costa Rica, “mahi” translates to “very strong” in Hawai’ian. This may allude to their rich protein quantities that might make one big and strong.
Paging Doctor fish! Doctor fish, can you please come to the E.R.? How did this ocean-dweller get called “doctor” without going to medical school? Well, Acanthurus chirurgus have a series of lines down their sides that aren’t quite stripes or fins. The scientific name is a bit of a mouthful, and professionals refer to these markings as “scalpels,” so “doctor” felt like a fitting colloquial name for this one.
According to National Geographic, there are over 32,000 different species of fish. With colloquial names and regional differences, there are a lot of different ways to name all of them. What’s in a name? Sometimes it’s Greek. Other times, it’s Latin. Sometimes a name is shortened to make it easier to pronounce. Imagine yelling “Paracheirodon innesi” on a loud ship on a windy day. (Clearly nicknames are important.) Sometimes we give names to things to help us survive. Other times, like now, they can help you learn a language, make you think, and maybe even help you smile.