Have you studied another language in school? There are thousands of different languages in the world, but the common language of all scientists is Latin. That’s because plants and animals have so many different names in so many different languages that it can get very confusing! So, all plants and animals also have a scientific name, which is in Latin. These names may sound funny (like Bubo or horribilus), but once you understand them, they actually make a lot of sense and can teach you something about the species.
Take the Flammulated Owl, for instance. Its Latin name is Psiloscops flammeolus. Psilo means single and scops is the Latin name for the genus, or group, called Scops. The Flammulated Owl is the only owl in North America that belongs to this genus, which tells you that it is very unique! The word flammeolus is the species name, and comes from the Latin word flammeus, which means “flame-shaped” or “flame-colored”.
So what can you infer about the Flammulated Owl? Did you guess that the Flammulated Owl has a reddish “flame” shape on its wing? Well, that’s right! Actually, Flammulated Owls can either be flame-colored (reddish) or ash colored (grayish), depending on where in North America they live. Generally they are grayer in the North and redder in the South. Perhaps these color variations help the owls to better camouflage themselves in their surroundings. No matter where they live Flammulated Owls choose habitats that are arid and cool- usually forested areas up in the mountains. Maybe it makes sense for the “flaming owl” to live in a place that feels cool!
Maps provided by The Birds of North America Online and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.