Famous Joke in Science: The Rhinogradentia (Snouters)

Three snouters: Archirrhinos haeckelii, Rhinolimacius conchicauda, Nasobema lyricum (Order Rhinogradentia), from Stumpke (1961).
Three snouters: Archirrhinos haeckelii, Rhinolimacius conchicauda, Nasobema lyricum (Order Rhinogradentia), from Stumpke (1961).

Every scientific discipline has inside jokes. Why? Because they perform social or intellectual work. In this post, Professor Joe Cain links to his project on one of biology’s famous practical jokes, the Rhinogradentia, or “snouters”. This page supports a research paper published on the subject and provides additional materials.

Historical research paper on Rhinogradentia

Joe Cain (accepted). In My Tribe: What the Snouters (and Other Jokes) Reveal About Tribes in Science. Endeavour.

Abstract: This paper tells the history of this famous joke in science: Gerolf Steiner’s invention of the Rhinogradentia using the pseudonym Harald Stümpke. It follows this story from this joke’s creation in the 1940s, to the relabelling of Rhinogradentia as “snouters” in the 1960s, to later use as an inside joke within zoology and taxonomy. Steiner’s original monograph for these imaginary creatures followed standard conventions in taxonomy and did not disclose its fictitious nature. It was a tall tale for specialists to cherish. Later, Steiner’s joke took on a life of its own as his monograph functioned to identify communities of shared understanding and to spot lapses in expertise. This study places Steiner’s story within “jokelore,” arguing the rhinograde narrative has been repeated, shared, extended, and mimicked by diverse groups so they may accomplish either social work or intellectual work within the context of particular tribes and intellectual traditions.

Otopteryx volitans (Stumpke 1961 Bau und Leben der Rhinogradentia).
Otopteryx volitans (Stumpke 1961 Bau und Leben der Rhinogradentia).

More on Rhinogradentia

In the paper, I describe the publishing history of Steiner’s joke, including:

  • 1961. Bau und Leben der Rhinogradentia. German original
  • 1962. Anatomie et Biologie des Rhinogrades. Un Nouvel Ordre de Mammiferes. French translation
  • 1967. The Snouters. Form and Life of the Rhinogrades. English translation (another edition in 1981) 
  • 1992. I Rinogradi e la zoologia fantastica. Italian translation
  • 1997. Hararuto Shutyunpuke (author). Bik¯ori: atarashiku-hakken-sareta-hony¯urui-no-k¯oz¯o-to-seikatsu. Japanese translation

Natural History magazine (ISSN 0028-0712) published an English-language article by Stumpke in 1967 (for April Fool’s Day, April 1st)(pdf here). The same volume includes extensions to the joke in letters to the editor in later issues. This is the American Museum of Natural History promoting the 1967 American English translation of Stumpke (1961) via its publishing arm, Natural History Press.  

Other famous jokes in taxonomy

Eoornis petrovelox gobiensis specimen
Eoornis petrovelox gobiensis specimen (Fotheringham (1928)

Eoornis

  • Fotheringham, Augustus C. 1928. Eoörnis pterovelox gobiensis. 2007 facsimile is available from Euston Grove Press.

Caminalcules

Papers by Robert Sokal (1983-1984) in Systematic Zoology. 4 parts. 

  1. 1983. Phylogenetic Analysis of the Caminalcules. I. The Data Base. Systematic Zoology 32(2): 159-184.
  2. 1983. Phylogenetic Analysis of the Caminalcules. II. Estimating the True Cladogram. Systematic Zoology 32(2): 185-201.
  3. 1983. Phylogenetic Analysis of the Caminalcules. III. Fossils and Classification. Systematic Zoology 32(3): 248-258.
  4. 1983. A Phylogenetic Analysis of the Caminalcules. IV. Congruence and Character Stability. Systematic Zoology 32(3): 259-275.
Equus pantomimus and its subspecies, credit Chris Dawson, 2017
Equus pantomimus and its subspecies, credit Chris Dawson, 2017

Equus pantomimus

  • Artist and cartoonist Chris Dawson has produced a detailed study of Equus pantomimus and its subspecies (cartoon site; artist site)

Haggis

  • A. M. King, L. Cromarty, C. Paterson, J. S. Boyd. 2007. Applications of ultrasonography in the reproductive management of Dux magnus gentis venteris saginatiThe Veterinary Record 160: 94-96. (download

Related articles on humour in science

[I’ve had an extremely thoughtful e-mail from Wendi Wilkerson, who has taken the time to assemble some relevant literature from folklore studies. I am most appreciative, and post it here with her permission.

Dr. Cain, 

I attended, and greatly enjoyed, the talk you gave at UCL about jokes and 
humor in the scientific community. Here follows the list of works discussing 
the social aspects of jokes and joke cycles that I said I would send you. I 
would have done so sooner, but I only recently returned to Louisiana, and 
have been swamped with jetlag and paperwork. 

The Jensen is a good foundational text that introduces the discussion of 
jokes as inter-and intra-cultural negotiation. Among other things, he 
recognizes the role that “getting” the joke plays as a marker of belonging 
and inclusion for a particular group. The Basso foregrounds the role jokes 
play in establishing and individual’s cultural identity. The Oring is some 
of the most recent work done on the subject. The Dundes works are the meat- 
and-potatoes of the study of jokelore- “Foolproof: A Sampling of 
Mathematical Folk Humor,” “The J. A. P. and the J. A. M. in American 
Jokelore,” and “Cracking Jokes: Studies of Sick Humor Cycles and 
Stereotypes,” should be particularly useful in your research. 

Hope this helps!

JOKELORE ARTICLES: 

  • Renteln, Paul and Alan Dundes. “Foolproof: A Sampling of Mathematical Folk 
    Humor” Notices of the American Mathematical Society Vol. 52, No.1 (January 
    2005). 
    Can be found online at: www.ams.org/notices/200501/fea-dundes.pdf
  • Basso, Keith H. Portraits of the Whiteman: Linguistic Play and Cultural 
    Symbols Among the Western Apache. Cambridge:Cambridge University 
    Press, 1979. 
    Drawing on current theory in symbolic anthropology and 
    sociolinguistics, this interpretive essay investigates a complex form of 
    joking based on material collected in a Western Apache community wherein 
    Apaches stage carefully crafted imitations of Anglo-Americans. 
  • Dundes, Alan and Carl Patger. When You’re Up To Your Ass In Alligators: More 
    Urban Folklore from the Paperwork Empire. Detroit: Wayne State 
    University Press, 1987. 
    Office copier folklore—those tattered sheets of cartoons, mottoes, 
    zany poems, defiant sayings, parodies, and crude jokes that regularly 
    circulate in office buildings everywhere—is the subject of this 
    innovative study. this type of folklore represents a major form of tradition 
    in modern America, and the authors have compiled this raw data for 
    scholarship—and entertainment. 
  • Dundes, Alan. “The J. A. P. and the J. A. M. in American Jokelore.” The 
    Journal of American Folklore Vol. 98, No. 390. (Oct. – Dec., 1985), pp. 
    456-475. 
  • Dundes, Alan. “The Dead Baby Joke Cycle” Western Folklore Vol. 38, No. 3. 
    (Jul., 1979), pp. 145-157. 
  • Dundes, Alan and Uli Linke. “More on Auschwitz Jokes” Folklore Vol. 99, No. 
    1. (1988), pp. 3-10. 
  • Dundes, Alan. Cracking Jokes: Studies of Sick Humor Cycles and Stereotypes. 
    Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1987. 
  • Jansen, William Hugh. “The Esoteric-Exoteric Factor in Folklore.” The Study 
    of Folklore.” ed. Alan Dundes. Prentice Hall, 1965. 
    Foundational essay discussing inter and intra cultural humor and 
    identity 
  • Oring, Elliot. Engaging Humor. Chicago: University of Illinois, 2003. 
    In Engaging Humor, Elliott Oring asks essential questions concerning 
    humorous expression in contemporary society, examining how humor works, why 
    it is employed, and what its messages might be. This provocative book is 
    filled with examples of jokes and riddles that reveal humor to be a 
    meaningful–even significant–form of expression. 

Wendi D. Wilkerson, UL Department of English/Folklore 

 

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