6 creatures curiously named after celebrities
Sir David Attenborough has done it again. The acclaimed naturalist, activist, and filmmaker has inspired scientists to name yet another discovery after him.
This time, it’s not a rainforest flower (Sirdavidia), a prehistoric plesiosaur (Attenborosaurus conybeari), or goblin spider (Prethopalpus attenboroughi). It’s Cascolus ravitis, a tiny, 430-million-year-old ancestor to crustaceans, whose fossil was discovered by scientists based out of the University of Leicester.
But Attenborough isn’t the only luminary to bear such a distinction. Let’s have a closer look at Cascolus ravitis and five other creatures curiously named after famous people.
Forget the fossil. The name is quite the specimen. It literally means ‘At-the-dwelling Leceister-life-messenger’ in Latin.
First, the genus name Cascolus translates Attenborough into Latin. From the Nottinghamshire village of the same name, the surname Attenborough joins the Middle English atten, a form of ‘at’ and borough, from the Old English for a ‘fortified dwelling’. To get at this sense in Latin, the scientists joined castrum, ‘fort’, with colus, said to mean ‘dwelling in’, yielding Cascolus.
Second, the species ravitis is a triple, Attenborough-awarding blend. Ratae was the Roman name for Leicester, where Attenborough grew up. To Ratae the scientists merged the Latin vita, ‘life’, and commeatis, ‘messenger’, or ‘life-messenger from Leicester’, approximating Attenborough’s storied career.
In 2012, scientists at Duke University in the US named a new genus of ferns discovered throughout the Americas after pop superstar Lady Gaga. When examining the ferns’ DNA, the scientists spotted the base pair sequence G-A-G-A – just like the singer. They also noted the ferns display gender fluidity, a major theme in Lady Gaga’s work. What’s more, in one stage of its development, the ferns resemble a heart-shaped costume Lady Gaga wore at the 2010 Grammy Awards.
Two species of the new genus further nod to the diva: Gaga monstraparva, or ‘little monsters’, a nickname for Lady Gaga’s fans, and Gaga germanotta, after the singer’s birth name, Stefani Germanotta.
In January 2017, scientists identified a new species of gibbon in southwest Asia. They called it the Hoolock tianxing. In Chinese, tianxing (天 行) means ‘heaven’s movement’ – or, because the discoverers were such big fans of the movie Star Wars ‘skywalker’, after the film’s Luke Skywalker. Tianxing describes the way the gibbon moves high up in the canopy of Chinese rainforests.
Scientists are known for the objectivity, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a sense of humour. When Dr Vazrick Natari saw the white tufts capping the head of a new species of moth he discovered around Baja California, one person came to mind: Donald J Trump. Explaining why he chose Neopalpa donaldtrumpi for the organism in 2017, Natari said: ‘The specific epithet is selected because of the resemblance of the scales on the frons (head) of the moth to Mr. Trump’s hairstyle’.
Natari wasn’t just having a joke with the name, though. He also wanted to nudge the president, who has questioned climate change: ‘The reason for this choice of name is to bring wider public attention to the need to continue protecting fragile habitats in the US that still contain many undescribed species’.
In 2014, Eduardo Mitio Shimbori and Scott Richard Shaw identified 24 new species of wasps. One, Aleiodes frosti, remembers American poet Robert Frost’s most famous line from his most famous poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’: ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – / I took the one less traveled by’.
Female Aleiodes (Greek: ‘not smooth appearance’) wasps, see, lay eggs in caterpillars, which effectively mummifies them. The larvae then eat their way out, but unlike its cousins, only Aleiodes frosti cuts a lid from the mummy’s backside to escape. As the scientists put it: ‘This Aleiodes species takes a “road not taken” by other species, to its adulthood, by emerging in a different and unique way’. Very poetic.
In 2004, California biologists Matthew Buffington described a new genus of wasps he dubbed Preseucoela. The Pres- in Preseucoela? That’s for Elvis Presley. The –eucoela is after the Eucoline subfamily of wasps.
But one of the species, Preseucoela imallshookupis, really got Buffington dancing. The name imallshookupis isn’t any fancy Latin or Greek word. It’s plain old rock and roll, paying homage to Elvis’ 1957 hit, ‘I’m All Shook Up’.
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