After an unfortunate hiatus for Monday Mandarin Meanings, today we continue our exploration of the intersection of Mandarin Chinese and entomology. Here is a picture:
While the Latin name of this family of insects is “Cerambycidae”, and the English name is “longhorn beetle”, the Chinese have a much better name: tiānniú:
The left character, tiān, means “sky”, while the right character, niú, means “ox”, “cow”, or “bull”. So this insect is “sky-ox”, “sky-cow”, or “sky-bull”. I personally prefer sky-cow because it’s more fun to say, but sky-ox or sky-bull is probably more accurate given the appearance of the insect. The long, horn-like antennae give these insects a distinctly bovine appearance. Some of my peers at the UM Biological Station disagreed with me about this similarity, but I clearly win.
Fun Fact: One species of sky-cow I collected at the station has an adaptation so that if you squeeze its thorax, it lets out a small, high-pitched squeal, like it’s screaming. But the squeal is not out of pain – in fact, whether or not insects can feel pain is currently unknown. The squeal is rather an adaptation to surprise an attacker and, presumably, induce it to drop the insect after trying to eat it. Homo sapiens has a similar adaptation.
But one thing is left to consider: can air traffic delays also be considered sky-bull?