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  • Besides turkeys, what species first domesticated in the New World has an Old World place name?

    Posted on November 26th, 2010 admin No comments

    One last Thanksgiving-related question, since Friday is still a holiday for some of us.

    There are two correct answers to this, but only one was mentioned by Twitter correspondents.  The first correct answer was from @little_mavis: The guinea pig is a species domesticated in the New World but given an Old World name.

    Guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus) are called “pigs” (commonly and scientifically) because of their pig-like build and the pig-like sounds they make.  They were first domesticated in mountainous regions of northwestern South America.  Why they are called “guinea” pigs is a matter of conjecture, and may be a combination of several factors.  One hypothesis is that “guinea” is a corruption of Guiana, though they’re not originally from there, either.  Another guess is that “guinea” pigs may have been imported to Europe via Guinea (West Africa) and so been named for the wrong place.

    The misnaming of the “guinea” pig may simply be similar to the misnaming of the turkey.  It may have been intentionally named for an exotic-sounding place, even though that place is not where the animal actually came from.

    A third species first domesticated in the New World and given a misplaced name is the muscovy duck (Cairina moschata).  It’s not from Muscovy, but from northern South America and possibly Central America.

    The muscovy duck is the only breed of domestic duck not descended from the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos).  Most domestic ducks are descended entirely from the mallard, but a few from hybrids of mallard and other Anas species.  In fact, transgeneric hybrids of muscovy ducks and mallard-derived ducks can be bred, but the hybrids can not reproduce.  They are often raised for meat because they grow quickly, like mallard-descended domestic ducks, but grow to be larger, like the slower-growing muscovy duck.

    The muscovy duck may have derived its name from incorrect association with Muscovy (the duchy that includes Moscow), or from their musky odor.  The scientific name Cairina moschata means “musky one from Cairo,” but the muscovy duck is not from Cairo, either.

    More about New world domesticates with Old World names:

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