Taxonomist’s conundrum: What to do when a species needs a new name, but the moniker available is unpleasant? Case in point: this verdant beauty is surely the loveliest of the Bahamas’ lizards. Long known as A. carolinensis, recent work demonstrated that Bahamian green anoles and American green anoles are not closely related and thus represent independent colonizations from their Cuban, A. porcatus, ancestors. Hence, unless one wants to sink them all into a single species (which by the rules of zoological nomenclature, would be given the name A. carolinensis, thus sinking porcatus and representing another instance of U.S. hegemony over Cuba), the Bahamian lizards need a new name.
And, alas, that name already exists, and it’s a stinker: A. smaragdinus. Trying saying it yourself. There are a number of different ways to pronounce it—I have no idea which is correct, but they’re all unpleasant. And don’t bother trying to shorten it: “smarags” is cacophonous as well. It’s a shame, really, because the epithet is apt, meaning “emerald green” in Latin.
These little beauties are actually different from our familiar carolinensis. Perhaps most obviously they have a green belly, rather than the americano’s ivory slate, and they have a pointier snout. More generally, their body color is more lovely, a richer—dare I say, more smaragdinous—shade of green.
Does this name change have any practical consequences? In fact, it has one small impact: a great deal of ecological work—some of it quite significant in the development of the field of ecology—has involved this species, under the name A. carolinensis. For example, the term “resource partitioning” was coined in Schoener’s 1968 Ecology paper, which reported on ecological differences among the four anoles of Bimini: sagrei, distichus, angusticeps, and carolinensis, er, smaragdinus. Schoener had a number of other important papers involving Bahamian greens—I’m partial to his 1975 Ecological Monograph—and others, myself included, have published on them as well. This, of course, leads to awkwardness if one wants to refer to the species in those studies. Does one say that the work was done on carolinensis, smaragdinus, or “smaragdinus (formerly referred to as carolinensis, but Bahamian species are now known to be specifically distinct from their American counterparts).” Alas, I think the latter is the verbose, but most clear and correct, option.