Everybody runs out of ideas. Even taxonomists, those chaps responsible for naming and defining new groups of species, have since turned to celebrities and media icons to name newly discovered species (which range upwards of 15,000 new discoveries per year, according to the New York Times, with 8.7 million left to be discovered in 2011, give or take 1.3 million). From naming a life-sucking wasp after J.K. Rowling’s villainous dementors (which were, let’s be honest, way too terrifying for a children’s movie) to honouring the sitcom Big Bang Theory with a bee aptly named Euglossa bazinga (physicist Sheldon Cooper’s favourite word), taxonomists are getting creative. Either way, the names that they are coming up with are, while still laced with Latin, notably entertaining. Considering that scientists just named a wasp after Shakira because it injects its prey with venom that makes the dying creature wiggle. (Creature: usually a caterpillar, to give you a visual.). But it can sometimes get awkward. In 1936 collector Oscar Scheibel discovered a blind cave beetle that he named in honour of Germany’s present chancellor—Adolf Hitler. How awkward is that for his ancestors?
All we have to say is that if naming bugs and bacteria after celebrities/icons makes everyone pay more attention to the natural world around them, then we’re all for it. Here is a list of discoveries that have been honoured with a namesake via our latest/greatest:
10 Bootylicious Horse Fly
9 Sea Creatures of the Depp
Extinct for over 500 million years, the Kooteninchela deppi was a tiny sea creature (a little over an inch and a half) with pincers that scoured that shallower waters for food. The distant relative of what we now know as crabs and lobsters was named for Johnny Depp after David Legg decided that the arthropod resembled the actor’s portrayal of Edward Scissorhands. We were thinking more along the lines of Pirates of the Caribbean. You know, because of all that time Johnny spent in the ocean as “Captain” Jack Sparrow. But whatever works, Legg. Either way, it’s cooler than being named after bacteria.
8 Gaga Plant Life
Remember the Grammys in 2010? Now try to remember what Lady Gaga wore to the gig. Apparently, a group of Duke University scientists were so in awe of the green Armani dress and its resemblance to a gametophyte (which is some random fern body part) that they decided to name a group of 19 fern species after the eccentric’s singer’s wardrobe choice. Biologist Kathleen Pryer also touted that, like the fern, Gaga represents “equality and individualism”, which we know is true. We just didn’t realize that little ferns could be so expressive. Or that biologists were paying close attention to performance attire at the Grammys.
7 Spider Woman
We saw this one coming. The Aptostichus angelinajolieae is a trapdoor spider found on the coast of Northern California, best known for its ability to build homes which they then jump out of to grab their prey (while injecting the thing with poison). Doesn’t that sound lovely? While we aren’t exactly sure why scientist Jason Bond named the spider for Jolie, we do have to agree that it’s fitting. Seriously, despite being probably the most beautiful woman on the planet, she kind of reminds us of a spider. Bond has also named spiders after Nelson Mandela, Neil Young, Bono, Stephen Colbert and of course, his own dear wife.
6 Obama and umm…Lichen
Another Californian discovery (Seriously, who knew there were so many undiscovered species still roaming around out there?), this fire-hued lichen has been named Caloplaca obamae, after president Barack Obama. University of California’s Kerry Knudsen, who is a lichen curator (yes, that is actually a job) named the sponge-like composite organism in appreciation to Obama, for his “support of science.” The fungus, native to Santa Rosa, faced extinction due to extensive cattle ranching and deer/elk grazing, but thankfully, is expected to make a full recovery, although we can’t say that we won’t miss all the cowboys.
5 Playboy Bunny
This is absolutely amazing, even though it’s difficult to believe we haven’t discovered all the species of rabbits by now. The mastermind behind Playboy, Hugh Hefner, has had a bunny named after him. The rabbit, Sylvilagus palustris hefneri, was originally identified in the eighties, and is native to the marshlands of Florida. Honestly though, it was a genius move by the scientists, since Hefner has graciously donated some of his dollars to research the rabbit, which is said to be on the endangered species list (there are said to be about 300 remaining), due to rising sea levels infringing on the little creature’s natural habitat. Aww.
4 Kate Winslet
A carabid beetle, or ground beetle, has been named after buxom beauty Kate Winslet, in honour of her performance in James Cameron’s The Titanic. Not because of her flaming red hair or moving acting ability, but because she outlasted Jack in the ocean (Sigh.). The shimmering beetle, named Agra katewinsletae, might not be so lucky, as the continued loss of the rainforests may lead to the extinction of this little bug, but for now, we hope that the beetle can draw inspiration from Winslet. (But mostly we just hope that those idiots stop pillaging the rainforest).
3 Hasselhoff Crab
2 Harrison Ford
The Star Wars and Indiana Jones star is a hot commodity (although Zappa is still a little ahead of him) in the world of taxonomy. Harrison Ford is named for not one, but two species’ discoveries. Both namesakes have been made in thanks to Ford for his work, from the narration of a documentary and to recognize his work in the conservation field (he is a Conservation International board member). What a guy. The ant, Pheidole harrisonfordi was discovered in Honduras, while the spider, Calponia harrisonfordi, is native to California, and is thought to eat other spiders. Ew. We are just hoping he features them in his next movie.
1 Frank Zappa
There’s just something about Frank Zappa’s face the taxonomists love. Either that, or they love his music. Not counting the asteroid or the urinary tract named after Zappa (we will get into those another day), there are over four species whose names have been inspired by the composer. The first is a fossil snail named Amaurotoma zappa. Then there is a jellyfish, named Phialella zappai by biologist Ferdinando Boero just so that he could meet the famed musician, while another scientist named a genus of goby fish (Zappa) after Zappa in honour of music and general awesomeness. If that isn’t enough, there’s also a spider named Pachygnatha zappa from Cameroon that bears Zappa’s name, due to the fact that the spider’s markings bear resemblance to Frank’s moustache. Now that’s a good reason to name a spider after someone.
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