From the team at BBC Wildlife Magazine

12 animals named after celebrities

One of the benefits of discovering a new species is the opportunity to name it, and many scientists have taken inspiration from popular culture. These are a few of our favourites.

Shakira performs onstage during the Pepsi Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida. © Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty
Published: May 9, 2022 at 7:00 am
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Somewhere between 15,000 and 18,000 new species of plants and animals are discovered every year, and consequently, need to be named. Although many are bestowed very mundane and descriptive names, others are given more flashy monikers.

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Scientists often turn to their favourite icons from popular culture, or else ones that relate to some interesting aspect of the species - its colour, pattern, or behaviour. As well as being fun, there are some very good reasons for doing this.

It can be a very effective way of bringing much-needed attention to endangered or threatened species, the media coverage bringing awareness to their plight. Here is a list of some of the more interesting and humorous examples.


12 animal species named after celebrities

Aleiodes shakirae - Shakira

Aleiodes shakirae (female is pictured), wasp. © Eduardo Shimbori
Aleiodes shakirae (female is pictured), wasp. © Eduardo Shimbori

In one of the most fun examples, this wasp species is named after the iconic Colombian singer-songwriter Shakira. The scientists who discovered the wasp in the eastern Andes mountains of Ecuador have explained that the name was inspired by a specific and fascinating behaviour.

This wasp belongs to the Braconidae family of parasitoid wasps, meaning that to breed they lay their eggs inside the body of another animal - a host. This particular species does so inside a species of caterpillar, and the larvae actually hatch inside. This causes the caterpillar's body to twist and twist in a way that reminded them of the famous dance moves of the ‘Hips don't Lie’ singer!

Read the full paper in ZooKeys.

Shakira performs onstage during the Pepsi Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida. © Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty
Shakira performs onstage during the Pepsi Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida. © Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty

Plinthina beyonceae - Beyoncé

Plinthina beyonceae, fly. © CSIRO, Bryan Lessard
Plinthina beyonceae, fly. © CSIRO, Bryan Lessard

This species is also named after a legendary and mononymous female pop star, Beyoncé. This time it isn't named after her moves, however. The horse fly, discovered in 1981 but not named and described until 2011, has a distinctive shiny bum, due to a dense patch of golden hairs on its abdomen.

The link to Beyoncé is a combination of the fact that this reminded the researchers of her song ‘Bootylicious’, and because they thought it the "all-time diva of flies". Beyoncé is yet to comment on this extraordinary honour.

Read the full paper in Australian Journal of Entomology.

Beyonce Knowles performs on stage in Cardiff in 2018. © Kevin Mazur/Getty Images For Parkwood Entertainment
Beyonce Knowles performs on stage in Cardiff in 2018. © Kevin Mazur/Getty Images For Parkwood Entertainment

Over 40 species - Sir David Attenborough

A male frog.
A male Pristimantis attenboroughi. © Edgar Lehr and Rudolf von May. Used under Creative Commons via Wikimedia.

It's unsurprising that there are many species named after Sir David Attenborough – over 40 species of animals, plants and even protists bearing his name, including Attenborough’s rubber frog (Prisimantis attenboroughi, pictured above), Attenborough's pitcher plant (Nepenthes attenboroughii) and the burgundy snail (Attenborougharion rubicundus).

Sir David Attenborough with a photo of Attenborougharion rubicundus, at an event where he received the Lifetime Patron Award from Australia Museum in 2017. © James D. Morgan/Getty

Heteragrion freddiemercuryi, H. brianmayi, H. rogertaylori and H. johndeaconi - Queen

Not just one famous singer, but a whole group! Clearly a massive Queen fan, this researcher named four species in the same damselfly genus after the rockstars, one for each member. This was done to mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the band, as well as to honour their remarkable talents.

British rock band Queen, London, 1973. Left to right: drummer Roger Taylor, singer Freddie Mercury (1946 - 1991), guitarist Brian May, and bassist John Deacon. © Michael Putland/Getty
British rock band Queen, London, 1973. Left to right: drummer Roger Taylor, singer Freddie Mercury (1946 - 1991), guitarist Brian May, and bassist John Deacon. © Michael Putland/Getty

Sericomyrmex radioheadi - Radiohead

Sericomyrmex radioheadi, ant. © Ana Ješovnik
Sericomyrmex radioheadi, ant. © Ana Ješovnik

Also named after a whole band, but just the one species this time, this ant was named in recognition of the positive work of the celebrities, rather than a particular aspect of the animals.

The authors explain that the name was chosen in appreciation of the band’s “longstanding efforts in environmental activism, especially in raising climate-change awareness, and in honour of their music, which is an excellent companion during long hours at the microscope while conducting taxonomic revisions of ants”.

Read the full paper in ZooKeys.

Rock band Radiohead poses for a portrait at Capitol Records during the release of their album OK Computer in Los Angeles, 1997. © Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty
Rock band Radiohead poses for a portrait at Capitol Records during the release of their album OK Computer in Los Angeles, 1997. © Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Pinkfloydia - Pink Floyd

Some celebrities don't just get the honour of having a species named after them, but a whole taxonomic group! This is the case with the Pinkfloydia genus of orb-weaver spiders, whose namesake is easy to guess at. According to the biologists who named them, they wanted a name that reflected the uniqueness of the spiders, who have very distinctive physical features, and thought that the eclectic style of the prog-rock band did just that.

Roger Waters, Nick Mason, David Gilmour, Richard Wright of Pink Floyd, group portrait off stage, 1971 © Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty
Roger Waters, Nick Mason, David Gilmour, Richard Wright of Pink Floyd, group portrait off stage, 1971 © Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty

Etmopterus benchleyi - Peter Benchley

Ninja lanternshark (Etmopterus benchleyi) © Ross Robertson
Ninja lanternshark (Etmopterus benchleyi) © Ross Robertson

Some people have received the honour of having an animal named after them due to their related creative works. For example, the ninja lanternshark (Etmopterus benchleyi) was named after Peter Benchley, author of the 1974 novel Jaws, later made into a blockbuster film of the same name.

As well as creating the world’s most famous shark, Benchley also became an outspoken ocean conservationist, particularly for sharks. This is in part due to some regret he expressed about the contribution of his novel to negative perceptions of sharks, and false beliefs about the danger of shark attacks.

Read the full paper in Zenodo.

Peter Benchley, author of the novel Jaws. © Chris Polk/FilmMagic for Universal Studio Home Video/Getty
Peter Benchley, author of the novel Jaws. © Chris Polk/FilmMagic for Universal Studio Home Video/Getty

Nannaria swiftae - Taylor Swift

A brown and orange millipede.
Nannaria swiftae was named after the singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. © Derek A. Hennen

A millipede in North America made headlines earlier in 2022 when it was announced that it was named after the singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. It was one of 17 new millipede species named in one paper by scientists, and ‘swiftae’ was chosen as the leader author Dr Derek Hennen, the lead author of the study, is a Swiftie (a fan of Taylor Swift). He also named a species after his wife, N. marianae, as “a small thank you for all her patience when we’re taking a nature hike and I stop to look for millipedes.”

Read the full paper in ZooKeys.

Taylor Swift singing and playing a guitar.
Taylor Swift performing on Saturday Night Live in November 2021. © Will Heath/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

Baicalellia daftpunka - Daft Punk

There are perhaps more and less flattering reasons to have an animal named after you. For example, this flatworm gained its name when scientists realised that its copulatory stylet looked a little like the helmets the band Daft Punk use to conceal their identities whilst performing. It is not known what the band think about a comparison between their headwear and a flatworm’s penis!

French musical group Daft Punk during a concert in Milan in 2019. © Marco Piraccini/Archivio Marco Piraccini/Mondadori/Getty
French musical group Daft Punk during a concert in Milan in 2019. © Marco Piraccini/Archivio Marco Piraccini/Mondadori/Getty

Pristimantis gretathunbergae, Chibchea thunbergae, Craspedotropis gretathunbergae, Nelloptodes gretae and Thunberga - Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg's rainfrog (Pristimantis gretathunbergae). © Konrad Mebert

It is however probably a lot nicer when an animal gets your name due to your achievements. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish environmental activist, has had multiple species named after her, due to her important work fighting climate change. These include a rainfrog (Pristimantis gretathunbergae), a snail (Craspedotropis gretathunbergae), a spider (Chibchea thunbergae), a beetle (Nelloptodes gretae) and a whole genus of huntsman spiders (Thunberga).

Read the full paper on Pristimantis gretathunbergae in ZooKeys.

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg examines the beetle (Nelloptodes gretae) that was named in her honour at the Natural History Museum, London. © Tim Whitby/Getty
Environmental activist Greta Thunberg examines the beetle (Nelloptodes gretae) that was named in her honour at the Natural History Museum, London. © Tim Whitby/Getty

Elseya irwini and Crikey steveirwini - Steve Irwin

A turtle being held by humans.
Irwin's turtle (Elseya irwini). © Ian Sutton. Via Flickr, used under CC by 2.0.

Occasionally, a species is named after the person who found it and a celebrity. This is the case with Irwin's turtle (Elseya irwini), wherein they were one and the same. Steve Irwin, the late zookeeper, conservationist, and TV personality, and his father Bob spotted the unknown turtle whilst crocodile catching on a river.

Knowing that it was unusual they took it to a turtle expert and it was subsequently named after Steve. Irwin also has a species of snail named after him, hilariously called Crikey steveirwini.

Steve Irwin poses with a three foot long alligator.
Steve Irwin poses with a three foot long alligator at the San Francisco Zoo in June 2002. © Justin Sullivan/Getty

Idris elba - Idris Elba

Idris elba (female is pictured) is a parasitic wasp. © Elijah Talamas
Idris elba (female is pictured) is a parasitic wasp. © Elijah Talamas

Technically, this parasitic wasp species is named Idris elba, not named after Idris Elba. "If it were truly a patronym, then the species epithet would be elbai," says researcher Elijah Talamas. "The original description has no mention of Idris Elba, the actor, yet there are articles stating that this species is named for Idris Elba for various reasons, all of which were fabricated."

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Read the full paper in Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

English actor, producer and musician Idris Elba. © Weiss Eubanks/NBCUniversal/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty
English actor, producer and musician Idris Elba. © Weiss Eubanks/NBCUniversal/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

Authors

Leoma WilliamsScience writer
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