The opportunity to name a new species is an honor that biologists can work a lifetime for, although a few get to do it over and over. When the time comes, some scientists have something already in mind, while others take the actual species into account. Some use the opportunity to honor their favorite celebrity, make a joke, or just draw attention. They all know that clever and unusual names are more likely to get publicity outside of science publications, and we are all lucky for that.
1. Alviconcha strummeri
Photograph by Shannon Johnson/MBARI.
The staff at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute recently identified five new species of deep-sea snails that live close to thermal vents. Some of them are covered with spikes, which reminded them of punk rockers. So it only made sense that one of the snails be named Alviconcha strummeri, after The Clash’s Joe Strummer.
2. Sauroniops pachytholus
Image by Andrea Cau.
In 2012, three Italian paleontologists presented a skull fossil pointing to a new dinosaur species. It appeared to be a carcharodontosaurid, but had a strange bump on its skull not seen before. The new species was named Sauroniops pachytholus, in reference to Sauron, the evil entity in The Lord of the Rings saga.
3. Kingnites diamondi
Paleontology professor Dr. Mats E. Eriksson of Lund University in Sweden is a metal fan. In 2012, he named a new fossil species Kingnites diamondi in honor of the Danish metal star King Diamond. Kingnites diamondi is a worm with jaws that lived 420 million years ago. Dr. Eriksson had years earlier named a new species of worm Kalloprion Kilmisteri after Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister of MOTÖRHEAD.
4. Gaga germanotta
Pop star Lady Gaga had an entire genus of ferns named after her in 2012. There are 19 species in the genus, one of them dubbed Gaga germanotta, as Gaga’s given name is Stephanie Germonotta. Duke University biology professor Kathleen Pryer said that the Gaga ferns themselves had features reminiscent of Lady Gaga.
For example, in her performance at the 2010 Grammy Awards, Lady Gaga wore a heart-shaped Armani Prive' costume with giant shoulders that looked, to Pryer's trained eyes, exactly like the bisexual reproductive stage of the ferns, called a gametophyte. It was even the right shade of light green. The way the fern extends its new leaves in a clenched little ball also reminds Pryer of Gaga's claw-like "paws up" salute to her fans.
The clincher came when graduate student Fay-Wei Li scanned the DNA of the ferns being considered for the new genus. He found GAGA spelled out in the DNA base pairs as a signature that distinguishes this group of ferns from all others.
5. Bazinga rieki
Photograph by Dr Lisa-Ann Gershwin.
In 2011, marine biologist Lisa-ann Gershwin identified a new genus of jellyfish from photos sent other by photographer Denis Riek and named it after him and a catch phrase the TV show The Big Bang Theory. Bazinga rieki got its named from the character Sheldon Cooper, who yells “Bazinga!” in most episodes.
That wasn’t the only species labeled Bazinga! Andre Nemesio of the Universidade Federal de Uberlândia in Brazil identified a new species of orchid bee and named it Euglossa bazinga.
6. Cthulhu macrofasciculumque
Image by E.R. James, et al.
Two new species of microscopic termite parasites were discovered in 2013 that were named after H.P. Lovecraft’s elder god Cthulhu and his daughter Cthylla. The new species were named Cthulhu Macrofasciculumque (shown) and Cthylla Microfasciculumque.
7. Dendropsophus ozzyi
Photograph by Pedro Peloso.
Pedro Peloso was part of a biodiversity survey of Floresta Nacional de Pau-Rosa in the Brazilian Amazon in 2009. His team found 21 specimens of a tiny frog with a great big voice that turned out to be a newly-discovered species. The team had referred to it as a “bat frog,” and that association led to the name Dendropsophus ozzyi, an homage to singer Ozzy Obsbourne, who famously bit the head of a bat clean off during a concert in 1981.
8. Jaggermeryx naida
Wake Forest associate anthropology professor Ellen Miller and her team found some fossils in the Egyptian desert. Although fossils of this animal had been found before, Miller and her associates determined that it was a previously undescribed extinct hippo-like species that they named Jaggermeryx naida (Jagger’s water nymph), after Rolling Stone Mick Jagger. Why? Because they determined that the animals had “large, sensitive lips.” If it hadn’t been Jagger, the species would have been named after Angelina Jolie.
9. Arcticalymene Visciousi
Photograph by the Chicago Art Department.
Arcticalymene Visciousi is an extinct trilobite species named after Sid Vicious of The Sex Pistols. In 1997, Adrian and Edgecombe, two scientists who have named numerous species, dubbed a group of newly-discovered trilobites after each of the Sex Pistols: Arcticalymene cooki (Paul Cook), Arcticalymene jonesi (Steve Jones), Arcticalymene matlocki (Glen Matlock), and Arcticalymene rotteni (Johnny Rotten), in addition to Vicious’s trilobite.
10. Tinkerbella nana
Photograph by John T. Huber.
There is a group of parasitic wasps called fairyflies that are so tiny they must be studied through a microscopic. John Huber of Natural Resources Canada discovered a new species of fairy fly in Costa Rica last year and named it after the fairy in Peter Pan: Tinkerbella nana. Of the specimens Huber and his team found (by looking through eggs of the fairy flies’ insect prey), none were more than 250 micrometers in length.
11. Midichloria mitochondrii
Micro-image from the University of Sydney.
Midi-chlorians were a fictional microbe of the Star Wars universe, one that imbued certain people with the powers of The Force, and apparently a colony of them fathered Anakin Skywalker. The midi-chlorians were introduced in the prequels, and did not sit well with fans, as the “scientific” explanation of The Force appeared to undermine its religious aspect.
Nate Lo discovered a new species of bacteria that infected the ovaries of ticks. In 2006, he wrote it up, suggesting the species name Midichloria mitochondrii. And so, the microbe became a real earth species, and a more believable one at that.
12. Yoda purpurata
Photograph by David Shale.
A reddish-purple worm discovered near the seafloor of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge had lips on the sides of its head that resembled a certain wise old green alien. Researchers named it Yoda purpurata. which translates to “purple Yoda.”
Speaking of Star Wars species, here’s one that I wish was real. Ornithologists, the ball is in your court.
If that's not enough celebrity, pop-culture, and just plain funny species names, see also: