At the end of The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin told us that “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved”. Beautiful and wonderful they may be, but there is no denying that evolution has produced some downright bizarre-looking animals.

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But as Darwin also taught us, even the seemingly bizarre characteristics likely have some beneficial function, or else they would have been weeded out by natural selection. Nevertheless, that hasn't stopped scientists from giving eccentric-looking animals some quite playful names. As well as animals named after favourite celebrities, or even Star Wars characters, some have been named after food. This list contains a few of our favourite examples.

Animals named after food

Chocolate Chip Sea Star (Protoreaster nodosus)

It is not hard to see why this name was chosen for this species of Indo-pacific sea star - with its chocolate-brown bumps and sometimes tan colour you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a particularly elaborate cookie. I’m not sure they would be particularly tasty, however, habituating as they do sandy and muddy environments. Despite this, they are unfortunately still over-harvested. However, they are not collected to eat, but for the sea-shell trade.

Learn more about the species in our expert starfish guide.

Colourful chocolate chip starfish (Protoreaster nodosus) cling to the seafloor of a seagrass meadow in Komodo National Park, Indonesia. © Getty

Fried Egg Jellyfish (Phacellophora camtschatica)

This is another animal for whom the name needs little to no explanation. It looks just like a fried egg, albeit with tentacles! This alien-looking creature can be found in many parts of the world’s oceans, but prefers cool waters. It has fascinating symbiotic relationships with larval crabs, wherein the tiny crabs hitch a ride on the bell of the jellyfish (the egg) eating the parasites that plague it.

Phacellophora camtschatica is one of a couple of species known as fried egg jellyfish. The similarly eggy Cotylorhiza tuberculata shares the name and is commonly found in the Mediterranean.

Find out more fascinating facts about jellyfish

The Egg Yolk Jellyfish (Phacellophora camtschatica) (Photo by Getty Images)

Pineapple fish (Cleidopus gloriamaris)

This lucky fish has not one, but four fun descriptive names. It is also known as the knightfish or the coat-of-mail fish, due to its distinctive overlapping scales that are reminiscent of armour, as well as the port-and-starboard light fish after the pair of biolumicent organs near the corners of its mouth. The food-based name for this spiky yellow fish needs little elucidation, however. Even its Latin name is far from boring, gloria and maris, meaning "glory of the sea" - clearly a distinguished creature!

Pineapplefish (Cleidopus gloriamaris). Port Stephens, NSW./© Cleidopus_gloriamaris.jpg, Richard Ling, derivative work: Mfield, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Male chimpanzee yawning

Honey badger (Mellivora capensis)

Whilst the previous three on this list gained their food-based names through resemblance, others are given them due to their diet. This is the case for the honey badger, who raids beehives for both larvae and honey to eat. This notoriously tough mammal is not in fact a badger at all. Although members of the same Mustelidae family, they are more closely related to weasels. Its tendency to savagely attack other dangerous species, such as poisonous snakes and even lions, when escape is impossible has given it the reputation of “the world’s most fearless animal”. In reality, it prefers to hide and avoid trouble where possible, and generally only attacks when surprised.

Learn more about the honey badger and why they are so aggressive.

Honey badger (Mellivora capensis), Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa. © Getty

Banana slug (Ariolimax genus)

What’s this, a squishy forgotten banana lying on the forest floor? Why no, it's a banana slug! These brightly coloured gastropods come in five different species, including the Pacific banana slug, which is the second-largest species of terrestrial slug in the world, reaching a whopping 25cm – about the size of 1.5 bananas. This species tends to have irregular black spots on it, making it more of an overripe fruit.

Despite their brightness, the colouration of these slugs actually serves as camouflage, as the leaves littering the ground of their North American coniferous forest homes are often also yellow, enabling them to blend in.

More like this

Learn why we should love slugs.

Banana Slug (Ariolimax columbianus) on a fern in Redwood National Park, California. © Getty

Tomato frog (Dyscophus antongilii)

The brightness of the tomato frog however has an opposite function - as a signal and a warning. This conspicuous colouration that functions to let predators know ‘I am bad to eat’ is called aposematism. If a tomato frog is grabbed by a predator it will puff up and secrete a noxious substance that will numb the attacker’s eyes and mouth causing it to drop the frog. Definitely something worth avoiding!

This species of tomato frog is endemic to Madagascar and like many Madagascan animals is threatened by habitat degradation and pollution. It also faces threats from the illegal pet trade due to the desirability of these vibrant frogs to collectors.

Female tomato frog in Bangkok, Thailand (Photo by Getty Images)

Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris)

Another animal given a food name due to its camouflaging colouration is the lemon shark. Its yellow-brown hue allows it to swim unseen across sandy sea floors, taking its prey by surprise. Because they tend to thrive in captivity they are the most well-researched sharks. Interestingly, they are a species that prefer to be social and live in groups, aggregating with those of a similar size. It has even been suggested that they may have dominance hierarchies and form stable social bonds with others, in a similar manner to birds and mammals.

Learn all about the what a lemon shark is, what their personalities are like and how they learn new tricks

Underwater view of baby lemon shark swimming amongst mangroves, Alice Town, Bimini, Bahamas (Photo by Getty Images)

Strawberry finch (Amandava amandava)

With its bright red plumage, dotted with seed-like white spots, it is easy to see how this bird got it’s food-derived name. Also known as the red avadavat, it is found throughout tropical South and South East Asia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, due to its beauty, it is highly prized as a cage bird by collectors. Like in many bird species, however, it is just the males that are quite so brilliantly adorned, whereas the females are a more modest yellow-brown.

Red avadavat, red munia, strawberry finch (Amandava amandava). © Getty

Coconut crab (Birgus latro)

This fascinating, and frankly intimidating, crab is the largest land crustacean (and in fact, largest terrestrial arthropod) in the world. They are named for their ability to crack open coconuts to eat, and their extraordinary talent of taking a coconut from the ground, climbing it up a tree, and dropping it to crack it open and access the flesh inside. Despite the name, however, coconuts do not make up the main part of their diet, and they instead mostly eat other fleshy fruits, as well as nuts and seeds.

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A coconut crab (Photo by Getty Images)

Sea cucumber (Holothuroidea class)

Not a species, but an entire class of animals, there are about 1,717 species of sea cucumbers. Like starfish and sea urchins they belong to the echinoderm group of animals. Often found looking like an inert vegetable dropped on the sand, they live on sea floors feeding on plankton and decaying organic matter. They are, evidently, named after their resemblance to edible cucumbers. I’m not sure that you would want to eat a cucumber that looked quite like one of these however…

Sea cucumber in the Red Sea, Israel. © Getty

Authors

Leoma WilliamsAnimal behavior researcher and science writer

Leoma Williams is currently studying for a PhD at the University of Manchester, and writes periodically for both the website and print magazine

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