madreselva – madre = selva

Yesterday’s post about madreselva ‘honeysuckle’ mentioned that the second component of the Spanish word comes from Latin silva, which meant ‘forest, woods, woodland.’ The Romans sometimes spelled the word sylva, which appears in the English version of names like Transilvania/Transylvania ‘beyond the forest’ and Pensilvania/Pennsylvania ‘Penn’s woods.’ The derived Latin adjective silvaticus meant ‘having to do with forests or woods’ and by extension ‘running wild, wild.’ Vulgar Latin changed the word to salvaticus, a form that evolved through Catalan salvatge to become Spanish salvaje and through Old French sauvage to become English savage. Life in the woods and in nature in general can indeed be savage, as the photograph of a robber fly preying on a hapless skipper butterfly confirms. The tiny bright red “balloon” on the tail of the robber fly is a parasitic mite unwittingly avenging the butterfly by preying on its savage predator.

A parasitic mite preying on a robber fly that's preying on a skipper butterfly

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.

©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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