I'm coming across variable etymological meanings for the order Plecoptera (stoneflies). Some sources indicate the meaning is "wicker/braided-winged", while others suggest "folded/pleated wing" -- both referencing different characteristics of the wings!

  • From Wikipedia: "The name "Plecoptera" literally means "braided-wings", from the Ancient Greek plekein (πλέκειν, "to braid") and pteryx (πτέρυξ, "wing"). This refers to the complex venation of their two pairs of wings, which are membranous and fold flat over their backs."

  • From Dr. John Meyer online Entomology class notes (NCSU): "The name Plecoptera, derived from the Greek "pleco" meaning folded and "ptera" meaning wing, refers to the pleated hind wings which fold under the front wings when the insect is at rest."

I understand that my latter source is much more reliable than Wikipedia, but the prior etymology shows up more frequently from searching.

  • To confuse things more, Merriam-Webster blends these two etymologies together: "New Latin, from pleco- (from Greek plekein to plait, weave) + -ptera"

I'm trying to create a key of insect orders using their names, but this mismatch in characteristic has stumped me as both seem plausible.

enter image description here

Source: lesinsectesduquebec.com

Anyone know which of these stands true? (reputable source would be appreciated!)

(I don't really care about the etymology per se; I would like a source indicating the proper origin of the order's name so I know which is accurate)


1 Answer 1


Unfortunately an incomplete answer, hopefully others can add to this or fill out the details missing.

After a bit of searching, I found the original reference:

Plecoptera was named by Burmeister in 1939. I believe that this was a split of a previous clade, probably the Megaloptera. The book is available on Google books in the following link: Burmeister 1939 Handbuch der Entomologie: Ordnung Gymnognatha.. The relevant clade can be found on page 863. Unfortunately it is in German and using gothic script, so I can't read it. I will attempt to download the PDF and text recover, then pass through a translator, but as a lot of the terms will be specialist I don't hold out much hope.

Edit: it seems the wing position/folding is discussed on the lower part of page 865 and page 866, but the translation is garbled, so a competent German reader would be needed for proper translation. The following is from the top of page 866:

The consequence of this arrangement is that the rear field of the orthoptere wing can also be folded lengthways, the o Sembloden, however, is not capable of such a folding. In br For the Fåden, however, it will be in a state of rest under the Vorde field bent, and lies with this and the upper wings horizontally or similar the body, as in the walking orthopedic; while in i following guild, with the same dislocation of the wing formation and F tion, the position at rest is po, as with the jumping Orthopterics, in which the wings form the body like a dady bebeck Incidentally, there are also individual cases of orthoptera v where the back panel cannot be folded, e.g. B. in heterosexuals mia (p. 488.). With regard to the distribution of the veins in the w As far as the wings are concerned, it should be noted that both wings fit into it exactly match, which is again not the 3rd with orthopedic patients is.

However, most of the references that I could find that talked about the name use the "folded" "plecos" form, if that bears any weight. The ptera bit is certainly "wing" as in Archaeopteryx, which translates to (archaeo) old-wing (pteryx).

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the effort here. It's not everyday you get a description about an insect that includes dady bebecks and heterosexuals :p. Quite amusing. I'll have to ask a German colleague what they think about all this! $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 11:35
  • $\begingroup$ @theforestecologist thanks. I thought it was quite amusing myself. I just downloaded the book and captured the text in base Evince on a Linux system. Then copied and pasted into Google translate. As you can see there is a lot missing or problematic, I suspect malformed characters from the printing and distortion/missing from the scanning. It seems that "dady bebeck" is actually "dach bede(ch?) in the original, so it might mean "where the wings cover you like a roof" $\endgroup$
    – bob1
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ What I most appreciate is that I'd come across Burmeister's name in my own research, but the copy of his 1939 manuscript I found only had ~400 pages instead of the complete version you found. The index itself only went up a few hundred pages! I couldn't figure out why there was no mention of Plecoptera, but clearly your longer version makes all clear. (well, at least clearer! :p). My German colleague actually died last night, so improving the translation just became a bit more difficult on my end. Again, thanks for the upfront research! Let's see if someone can help clean up this translation $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ @theforestecologist. I'm sorry for your loss. If it is any help, the volume I linked was edition 2, I think noted as "Bd.2 abt.1", so a revision of the one you (and I) found initially. I think that that first edition was a 1835 one, whereas we needed the 1839. The lack of Plecoptera was what gave away that it was the wrong one. $\endgroup$
    – bob1
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 0:53
  • $\begingroup$ Ah. Good deal. Thanks, bob1 $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 11:07

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .