Week eighty-three: AMMOCETE (probability 24564), by David Sutton

An AMMOCETE (or AMMOCOETE) is the larva of the primitive fish known as a lamprey. We probably all know roughly what a larva is: an animal in an immature but active state that differs markedly from the adult. The word is from the Latin larva, mask or spectre, and carries the idea of deception. What we probably don't realise is just how many words there are in the Scrabble lexicon that relate to different kinds of larva. Many of these end in –WORM, as though the creatures in question have nothing to do with true worms or annelids, many of them are more or less cylindrical and wriggle, and that was good enough for our ancestors. Thus we have ARMYWORM, the larva of a small fly or moth that moves in large armies destroying crops; BAGWORM, any of several lepidopterous insects which construct, in the larval state, a baglike case which they carry about for protection; BOLLWORM, the larva of a moth which devours the bolls or unripe pods of the cotton plant, and which is also known as EARWORM; BUDWORM, a moth larva that feeds on plant buds; CORNWORM, the larva of the corn moth, GLASSWORM, the larva of a gnat, HORNWORM, the caterpillar of the hawkmoth; SCREWWORM, the larva of a dipterous fly which develops under the skin of certain animals, SPANWORM, the larva of any geometrid moth, and many more.

There are also various names for specific larvae that don't end in –WORM. The DOBSON or DOBSONFLY is the aquatic larva of a large neuropterous insect, used as fish bait. MEGALOPS is the larval stage of a crab. MUDEYE is the larva of a dragonfly. NAUPLIUS (plural NAUPLII) is a larval form in crustaceans. PLUTEUS (plural PLUTEI or PLUTEUSES) is the larva of the sea-urchin or brittle-star. PORINA is the larva of a moth that damages grassland in New Zealand. VELIGER is a kind of mollusc larva. And some kinds of larva even have their own collective noun: SPATFALL is a mass of planktonic shellfish larvae which has settled on the seabed prior to developing into adults, while STROBILA (plural STROBILAE) is a stack of immature larval jellyfish.

My favourite larval word? The fearsome-sounding HELLGRAMITE or HELLGRAMMITE, which appears to be an American name for the DOBSON, see above. The origin is unknown.


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