In the Arkansas Ozarks where I grew up – was reared sounds too intentional – those little fish that some call sunfish and others call bream are called perch.  They aren’t.  Perch are another family of fish.

In English we call that, usually red fruit that is the basis of so many sauces and salsas, a tomato.  Sure some say təˈmātō and others təˈmätō, but in Rome they say pomodoro and in Prague, rajče.

It was that problem with common names that produced scientific nomenclature.  At the heart of biology is classification.  Starting with the first division we split living things into kingdoms.

At the time I studied biology; a time when we had just learned about DNA, there were two kingdoms: plant and animal.  Now there are three: plants, animals, and fungi.  Study of DNA led biologists to understand that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants.  The study of those living things is termed botany, zoology and mycology.

Within each of those kingdoms there are further divisions that occur arising from some difference until we get to the most specific group termed a species.  The group just larger is the genus.  Scientific names like Homo sapiens consist of Homo (man) the genus, and sapiens the species.  Sapiens is from sapient which is defined as wise or attempting to appear wise.  Wise infers some level of understanding above mere knowledge.  Alas, there seem to be more humans who desire to appear wise than actually are.

The Ascent of Man

The Descent of Man

Why do we do all of this splitting?  I imagine that it originated as a survival technique.  We needed to know which mushrooms made the stew taste better, which ones were edible but bitter and would give you a stomach ache, and which ones could kill you.

Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)

The Deathcap mushroom, Amanita phalloides, is the cause of the majority of deaths from mushroom poisoning worldwide, and it is for several reasons.  A. phalloides is widespread through the world, and it resembles several edible mushrooms such as the Caesar mushroom. Additionally, the toxins in Amanita species are resistant to heat, so they aren’t destroyed by cooking, and it is estimated that the consumption of half a mushroom is enough to be lethal.

Amanita phalloides may have been responsible for the deaths of Roman emperor, Claudius, and for the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI. (Wikipedia)

There are a lot of mushrooms.  Some like the morel are not easily confused with anything else and are delectable.  Others like Amanita can be confused with several other mushrooms and simple tests like color, whether it turns color on cooking etc. are unreliable.  You have to know the anatomy of mushrooms to tell the difference.

Turning back to tomatoes, tomatoes are a member of the Deadly Nightshade family.  That family, solonaceae, contains not only the nightshades, but peppers and eggplants. It was not until Columbus crew returned from the New World and reported that tomatoes were not poisonous; the natives had been seen eating them, that tomatoes became part of Italian cuisine.  Imagine Italian without them.

The problem with scientific splitters is that they want to split everything.  Great arguments and hurt feelings can result. 

My college instructor in plant taxonomy was an amazing man.  His memory was prodigious, his physical endurance phenomenal, and his humility a model for others.  Once, on a field trip in the Arkansas Ozarks one of our class found a small trillium.  She spent several minutes trying to key the plant out and, frustrated, told Dr. Moore that she couldn’t find it.  His response was, “That’s because I just recently named it.”  We asked if he had named it after himself and he said that would be a little too braggadocio.  He had named it, Trillium ozarkanum.


 Ozark Wake Robin (Trillium pusillum var. ozarkanum


In later years lumpers got into the conversation and the plant is now considered to be a dwarf variant of a trillium growing farther east commonly called the Wake Robin trillium.  The current name is the Little Ozark Wake Robin or the Dwarf Wake Robin with the scientific name, Trillium pusillum, var. ozarkanum

Splitters get academic recognition for describing and naming new species.

Lumpers don’t. However, they are valuable to the process.  We don’t need any more division than is necessary. 

How much is necessary or desirable? Necessary and desirable are not the same things.  We need to classify mushrooms that don’t kill us so that we can identify the ones that can.

At one time the definition of a species had to do with the ability to interbreed and produce fertile offspring  That separated species. Now that has been revised.

Dogs are descended from the gray wolf.  That has been pretty much decided.  However, there is controversy over which gray wolf.  It appears that it is from a Eurasian gray wolf that doesn’t exist anymore.  But, wolves and dogs can and do interbreed and produce fertile offspring.  They are both members of the genus Canis, with wolves being Canis lupus and dogs Canis lupus domesticus or Canis domesticus.

So, coyotes, members of the species, latrans, should not be able to interbreed with dogs and wolves to produce fertile offspring, but they clearly do.

There are now thought to be 18 subspecies of coyotes, and the coyotes that now live in the Eastern U.S. and Canada have varying amounts of DNA in common with wolves and dogs.  Additionally, gray wolves contain some coyote DNA.

So, why separate coyotes from wolves and dogs? 

Coyote in Yosemite National Park

Coyotes are different. 

They are more solitary and smaller, and they undergo estrus at a different time of year than wolves.  Because male coyotes only produce sperm during the period of female coyotes’ estrus they rarely sire pups from dogs or wolves.  Most coy dogs and wolf mixes were the result of a female coyote and a male wolf or dog. 

In Native American myth Coyote was seen as the sly trickster.  They are clever and sneaky and I have seen them vanish in front of my eyes.

From a conservation standpoint coyotes are listed as a species of “least concern”.  They are doing just fine, thank you.  Wolves outside of Canada and Alaska in North America have had to be introduced into areas where they are wanted.  The introduction of wolves into Yellowstone did a great deal to restore the ecosystem that had been completely upset by well-meaning people who prevented forest fires and wanted to protect the elk and bison from predation. Here's that story.


Splitters want to divide Homo sapiens into further divisions called races.

Lumpers realize that we are all one species.

That’s a topic for another discussion.

Views: 114

Comment by Rodney Roe on October 22, 2018 at 6:33am

As you may have guessed, I'm a lumper.

Comment by Steel Breeze on October 22, 2018 at 6:46am

got no use for mushrooms....taste like mouldy cardboard to me,plus they killed Eastwood in The Beguiled,lol....

as for canines,they were given to us as a constant reminder of how peaceful co-existence works....

Comment by Robert B. James on October 22, 2018 at 7:01am

Well Lumpy, I get you. No divide and control for you. I was elected leader of the Crow patrol at 12 or thirteen, and cannot remember the name of the first patrol I was shoved into at eleven. I still cannot tell a big crow from a small raven in the field, or a large hawk from a small eagle. But I see that none of these lumpings would prove fatal on ingestion, as it does with those lumping fresh hunted fungi into the wrong basket. Phantom thread aside, I have erred at a cow pod pick, to the point of near death, and so avoid collection all together. Yes, Me and the fungi are forever joined, and I listen and still wobble to that different drummer. 

Comment by Safe Bet's Amy on October 22, 2018 at 7:20am

Image result for go back caveman meme

Comment by alsoknownas on October 22, 2018 at 7:23am

Thanks for this post Rodney.

The new area I have moved to is replete with forested hills ,elk, deer, bald eagles, osprey, ravens, crows, heron and songbirds. I enjoy knowing the differences in each and being able to tell one bird from another at a glance. Crows in flight are similar to their cousin ravens but look different. They have distinctive walks and calls as well. 

The more I learn of the wild the less I want to know about the dominant predator; humans. 

Comment by Rodney Roe on October 22, 2018 at 8:20am

Amy, I saw a man in the Emergency Room decades ago who was dead and didn't know it yet.  He was from Sicily and had used some folk method to determine that a mushroom was all right.  Something about cooking it in butter and looking for a color change.  Maybe that worked in Sicily, but it didn't apply to the Death Angel mushroom he cooked up.

Apparently mushroom foraging attracts a huge following in Italy.  Most pick in the fall after a rain when there is a bumper crop.  Each year hundreds become ill and a handful die.  It's such a big thing in Italy that there are specific trespass laws related to mushroom foraging.  You must have a permit.

Steel Breeze, they are all different.  The little button mushrooms don't have a lot of flavor to me.  The portobellas are just a bigger version of the same.  Others, like the Japanese mushrooms, like shitake and enoji, have a good flavor, but are chewy, and the mix of little wild mushrooms that you can sometimes find in the market have really good flavors  But, it is a matter of taste.  When I eat a burger I want Cheddar cheese, pickles and onions.  Mushrooms and Swiss cheese just don't do it for me.

Comment by Rodney Roe on October 22, 2018 at 8:30am

@AKA, it sounds like you live in a wonderful place. 

Robert B. James ~ I got an Audobon's guide through the Book-of-the-Month club as a kid and took the field glasses that my dad had picked up on the battle field in Germany and became an avid bird watcher.  I could identify birds from flashes of color combined with a flight pattern.  It was a matter of being really observant and in having a good eye.  For several years I headed up a group for a Christmas count of birds in Arizona. Arizona is a wonderful place to "bird".  There are lots of habitats and there are many more species in the West than the East.  That was just something I enjoyed, and probably the fact that I majored in Biology in college.

One of my college friends who majored in Philosophy and Mathematics disdained Biology because it wasn't useful.  Really.  Arguing the meaning of "of" apparently was, and describing the argument with symbolic logic made it even more meaningful.

Comment by Ron Powell on October 22, 2018 at 9:20am

If coyotes were this stupid, they would have been extinct eons ago.

If humans were as smart as coyotes, Trump wouldn't be in the White House, he'd be in prison...

Comment by Rodney Roe on October 22, 2018 at 9:30am

Ron, thanks for that.  Yes, Wile E. was not so wily.  And I can't disagree with your assessment.

I sort of miss Roadrunner cartoons.  They were scrapped because of the violence against the coyote.  Maybe some kids can't tell that you can't fall 500 feet and bury up six feet deep, crawl out and keep chasing the roadrunner.

Comment by koshersalaami on October 22, 2018 at 11:13am

So you¡re a lumper, but what variety of lumper are you?


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