Giraffes are some of the world’s most recognizable and beloved animals– with their long necks and flashy spots, it’d be hard to mistake them for anything else! However, their scientific name reflects the confusion their strange appearance caused.

All plants and animals known to science have an official scientific name, in Latin– we’re Homo sapiens, dogs are Canis familiaris, cats are Felis catus. These names help scientists keep track of different living things and tell how they’re related to each other. However, these names sometimes show how science has progressed– the old scientific names reveal mistakes made by scientists. Giraffes are a good example of this. The ancient Greeks and Romans, when they first saw giraffes, thought they might be a combination of camels and leopards. So, they gave them the name cameleopardalis. Even though giraffes aren’t closely related to leopards at all, and only distantly related to camels, the name stuck and is still there in giraffes’ official scientific name: Giraffa camelopardalis.

Photo by Sarah Ferguson