I've just read Hal Clement's 1963 short novella "The Green World" (available from Project Gutenberg). Set on an alien planet, it features an amphibian carnivore which is called a Felodon and appears briefly throughout the story after being introduced in a zoo in the opening scene.

Where does the name "Felodon" come from? In real life, animal names often have some meaning to them, their scientific names being given in Latin and often somehow descriptive. Does Clement's choice of name "Felodon" indicate anything about the fictional scientists who named it, or does it somehow foreshadow the animal's role in the story?

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    I wonder if it was borrowed from "The Green Queen" by Margaret St Clair. That was released in 1956, was set on a planet called Viridis, and featured monsters called felodons. Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 11:31
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    The prefix "feli" typically refers to members of the cat clade, and the suffix "odon" indicates it has a notable tooth as a distinguishing characteristic (smilodon, mastodon).
    – DavidW
    Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 13:09
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    @DavidW that would involve mixing greek and latin roots though, a terrible sin... Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 13:19
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    @ClaraDiazSanchez Good point. A beast with catlike teeth (whatever that means) would be called an ailurodon. Anyway, since Hal Clement obviously borrowed the planet and animal from Margaret St. Clair (great find by the way), the meaning (if any) is to be sought in her story.
    – user14111
    Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 21:22
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    @ClaraDiazSanchez So I guess "television" makes your teeth curl. :) And "automobile" makes you run screaming? :D
    – DavidW
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 17:10

1 Answer 1


It looks very much like "Felodon" is made up of "Feline" and "teeth" in a bit of a Linnean pidgin construction.

The Linnean binomial naming convention is to construct a name using classical languages which is a bit descriptive of a new species. The original idea -- invented back in the days when any educated person was literate in at least one classical language -- was that the components would always be from the same language. E.g., "Tyrannosaur" is derived from the Greek for "tyrant" (τύραννο == týrannos) and lizard (ςσαύρα == sávra).

(Today, this is pretty much ignored because (a) how many biologists know Classical Greek and (b) how many care that they are mixing Latin and Greek in one coined word and (c) a lot of the obvious coinages are already in use.)

So Felodon is pretty clearly Felo+don, and don is a very common bit of species names from the Greek δόντι (== dónti) for "tooth". E.g., Mastodon, Smilodon, etc. It might also be from Latin where 'tooth' is dente (gotta love Indo-European!). This would ameliorate the faux-pas of mixing Latin and Greek.

Felo does not have an obvious Greek source, but seems likely to be from Latin "Felis" which is the source of our "Feline": cat-like.

Felodon is described as somewhat catlike:

It was of moderate size as carnivores went—some four feet long without the tail—and looked rather harmless as long as it kept its mouth shut. It was lying in the center of the cage, so it was difficult to judge the length of its legs. It showed no trace of the tendency displayed by many captive animals, of lying against a wall or in a corner when relaxed; and there was none of the restless pacing so characteristic of Earth's big cats under similar circumstances. It simply lay and stared back at Lampert, so steadily that he never was sure whether or not the cold eyes were provided with lids.

So in spite of it also being described as somewhat reptilian and somewhat amphibian, it seems like seeing it as cat-like is not unreasonable.

And I'd note that the picture illustrating to story (which can be found in the OP's link to Gutenberg) is distinctly cat-like.

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    Well done. I'd like to point out that the -o- between fel- "cat" and -don "tooth" is meaningless and just placed there for ease in pronunciation. Greek compounds generally use the connecting vowel -o- (as in acrophobia, astronomy) while Latin ones use -i-. Felodon would have been more recognizable as "cat tooth" if it had been spelled Felidon. Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 14:10
  • @user14111 I wish I could claim it was deliberate...
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 0:45

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