the linnaeus song: benedict gagliardi’s ‘one species are we’

THE “WE ARE ALL CONNECTED” aha’s of gardening—the window it provides into the natural order of all living organisms—is the very best part, better even than the mere aesthetics. But perhaps you, like I do, lack confidence in details of biological systematics, jumbling Phylum with Class or otherwise forgetting who fits where, exactly. No worry; I’ve found us really good backup (and the kind of backup who even sings).

Benedict Gagliardi has the combined scientific and musical chops to teach us all a solid lesson in taxonomy, and his “Linnaeus Song,” formally titled “One Species Are We,” is a delightful and also provocative place to start getting the hierarchy right, with we humans as the object lesson. Ben recently finished his Masters at UConn-Storrs in Entomology, and like the garden does, he has a real gift for shedding light on the natural world.

img_0756The last time I saw Ben, in July, he was wearing a headlamp and heading into the forest in the otherwise-darkness, leading a group at the local version of National Moth Night 2016 that I help to organize annually. (Above, head-lamped Ben teaching Moth Night participants the basics before heading into the woods.)

Had I known then about his Linnaeus Song, we could have had a round before everyone headed out to look for Lepidoptera—and I hope he’ll agree to add a performance to the 2017 program.

3365222-1Ben (above left) plays the concertina (often in duet with Armand Aromin, above right, of The Vox Hunters) and is particularly inclined toward Irish and other folk-style music. When Ben the Musician tried his hand at writing the lyrics of what would become “One Species Are We,” he was striving for, “something like a drinking song where each verse toasted the next character in a series,” along the lines of the classic “The Barley Mow.”

460px-biological_classification_l_pengo_vflip-svg“With that in mind,” says Ben the Biologist, “the idea to focus on Linnaeus’s biological classification system was almost immediate. Each of the verses of the song would describe one of the eight hierarchical categories that human beings are classified in, starting with Domain and ending with Species.” (Diagram of the eight ranks, left, from Wikipedia.)

The song may sound traditional, but Ben the Social Commentator even managed to layer in some very contemporary insights about the state we humans find ourselves in at the moment, behaving as anything but interconnected. (Hint: The kicker is the real kicker.)

Listen to a rough version of the song written (and sung) by Ben using the player up top. Read all about what went into making “One Species Are We” at this link. Who knows what the next song from Ben will be about because look at what astonishing place he now works at, full of inspirational wonder and surprises.

(Lyrics and footnotes below explaining some of them by Ben Gagliardi, used with permission.)



‘One Species Are We’

(lyrics by Benedict Gagliardi)
(melody = “Awake, Arise Good Christians”)

OF THREE domains of all life, eukaryotes are we
Inside each cell within us, a nucleus there be
Bacteria, Archaea, unfortunate are they
They have no membrane bound around their strands of DNA

Chorus: Linnaeus! Linnaeus! Here’s to your hierarchy
And let it not betray us! One species are we! 

Come all you motile metazoans and listen to my song
The kingdom Animalia is where we all belong
The plants may have their chlorophyll to photosynthesize
But animals are heterotrophs and so are the Fungi

Our backbone gives us structure, our backbone gives us strength
So with the other chordates, we find our phylum rank
But let our boney ego, never be unfurled
For the spineless worms and insects, they truly rule the world

By the milk our mothers gave us, by the hair upon our skin
It’s clear that we are mammals, class Mammalia we’re in
Most have a placenta, but this class has strange extremes
Like the milky-pouched marsupials and egg-laying monotremes

So let’s put things in order, now that we’ve been to class
With monkeys, apes, prosimians, we, the primates, do amass
We all can be distinguished by our well-filled craniums
And the envy of all other life: two fine opposable thumbs

Welcome to our family, all Great Apes are we
Orangutan, gorilla and our cousin chimpanzee
But if you believe that monkeys evolve into man
It seems you treat your own brain just like a garbage can

Homo is the genus of the African bipeds
Who stood erect, and picked up tools, and learned to use their heads
Our cousins are extinct now, leaving only us
But thanks to our bad habits, we may join them soon enough

So we are Homo sapiens but let us not forget
The reason we were given our specific epithet
We earned it for our wisdom, we earned it for our brain
Let fear and hatred never trump our consciousness again

ben’s helpful definitions:

  1. eukaryote: any organism whose organelles (i.e. nucleus) are bound in a membrane (i.e., animals, plants and fungi). As opposed to prokaryotes (Bacteria and Archaea) which lack membrane-bound organelles and have free-floating DNA.
  2. Archaea: single-celled, extremophile, prokaryotic (lacking membrane-bound organelles) microorganisms
  3. metazoan: multicellular, eukaryotic organisms (= animals)
  4. heterotroph: an organism that must obtain food and energy from external organic sources, as opposed to an autotroph (i.e., plant) that can synthesize its own food from inorganic substances and light or chemical energy
  5. chordate: an animal in the phylum Chordata which has a vertebral column (backbone)
  6. monotreme: a primitive group of mammals that lay large, yolky eggs. The only extant examples are the platypus and four species of echidnas
CategoriesNature woo woo
  1. Kathy says:

    Fun song! If he had written this many years ago when I was deciding on a college major I might have chosen Biology over Chemistry. Too much memorization for me. This song makes it fun!

    And, the Rhode Island Nature Lab looks absolutely fantastic!!! A candy store for the curious. What an amazing opportunity to work there.

    1. margaret says:

      Isn’t Benedict wonderful? Even better in person. :) (And it was minus 3 degrees Fahrenheit when I woke this morning, so I understand!)

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