slanting WHAT?
May 21, 2012 7:56 PM   Subscribe

What does the Latin genus name of the Mexican Burrowing Python, "Loxocemus" mean? In particular, what does the "-cemus" part mean?

I worked out (and have found a site that confirms) the 'loxo' part means 'slanting', but I don't know what is supposed to be the slanting part of this reptile.

The species name, "bicolor" is pretty obvious, and the scales do tend to be brown and white mottled. I used to keep these snakes and this has always puzzled me.

The time has come to stop wondering, and seek the wisdom of the hive mind to put this puzzle to rest!
posted by The otter lady to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think it's Greek transliterated into Latin. κημός means "muzzle" in Greek. This would be transliterated -cemus in Latin.
posted by infodiva at 8:17 PM on May 21, 2012

My Cassell's Latin dictionary didn't help. If you don't find your answer here, try these resources:

Brown, R. W. 1956. Composition of Scientific Words. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 1-882 (I think there are more recent editions, too)

A Dictionary of the Roots and Combining Forms of Scientific Words, 2005, 254 pp, ISBN 1-4116-5793-4
posted by katyh at 8:44 PM on May 21, 2012

Best answer: I agree with infodiva, because Cope's gloriously incomprehensible description of the beast to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, as recorded in their Proceedings of April 9, 1861 includes a brief mention of the slanted muzzle. I present this to you in all its 19th-century gentleman-explorer-zoologist jargon (italics theirs, bold mine):
Loxocemus Cope is a very remarkable genus of peropodous Ophidians, exhibiting several points of resemblance to the Calamarians, such as its cylindrical body, short tail, small eye, and narrow, conic head. The rostral plate finds a parallel in that of Rhinochleilus Bd. and Grd. and Arizona Kenn. also less closely in Stenorhina Dum. There is also a striking resemblance in the form of the head and pupil of the eye to Olisthenes Cope, (Scytale Boie, nec Merr., Pseudoboa Cope, nec Schneid.) O. Neuwiedii is quite similar in its style of coloration to L. bicolor. Without acquaintance with other allied genera, it is difficult to decide as to whether Loxocemus should enter the Boinae, or be regarded as the type of a new subfamily of aglyphodont eurystomatous serpents. Its diagnosis will be as follows: Body stout, cylindrical; tail short, urosteges two-rowed. Anal splurs small; metatarsal and tarsal bones large, tibia elongate curved, compressed and expanded at the distal extremity. Preanal plate bifid; gastrosteges narrow; scales smooth. Head small, indistinct, superiorly plane. Muzzle prominent, obliquely truncate. Rostral plate large, transverse, slightly elevated, encroaching on the prefrontals. Two pairs of frontals, the anterior very transverse, the posterior not completely separated from the large loreal. An elongate polygonial vertical. One small superciliary on each side, a narrow lateral occipital, and asmall medial interoccipital. Eye small, resting on the labials, which are not pitted; pre- and postoculars present; pupil elliptic, erect. Teeth slightly longer on the anterior parts of the dentigerous bones than on the posterior. Intermaxillary bone toothless; supraorbital bone none.
L. bicolor possesses three postocular plates; one large preocular is extensively in contact with the vertical; the latter plate presents an obtuse angle anteriorly, and is nine-sided. Superior labials ten, fourth and fifth entering the orbit. Twelve inferior labials. One pair of very narrow geneials, with a sulcus between them, and separated from the labials laterally by a single narrow plate on each side. Scales in thirty-four longitudinal rows; those of the inferior, half as wide as the gastrosteges. The tail and upper surface of the body, between the fourth rows of scales on each side, are of a rich purplish brown. Belly, chin, and upper labials yellow. One specimen brought by Capt. J. M. Dow, from La Union, San Salvador, and presented to the Smithsonian Institution. No. 4948.
I swear, it's just luck that I learned how to make a blockquote today.
posted by gingerest at 8:53 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks you guys!! Whew, now I can sleep at night! :)
posted by The otter lady at 9:01 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

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