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.
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.
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
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.
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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.
Plinthina beyonceae - Beyoncé
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.
Over 40 species - Sir David Attenborough
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).
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.
Sericomyrmex radioheadi - Radiohead
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.
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.
Etmopterus benchleyi - Peter Benchley
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.
Nannaria swiftae - Taylor Swift
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.
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!
Pristimantis gretathunbergae, Chibchea thunbergae, Craspedotropis gretathunbergae, Nelloptodes gretae and Thunberga - Greta Thunberg
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).
Elseya irwini and Crikey steveirwini - Steve Irwin
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.
Idris elba - Idris Elba
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."