Rare Butterfly Species Named for David Attenborough

Andrew Neild, Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.
Andrew Neild, Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London. / Andrew Neild, Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

For generations, documentarian and naturalist Sir Richard Attenborough has inspired his viewers to explore and protect the world around them. His work earned him a knighthood, and in 2008 he was even named a national treasure in the UK. The latest feather in his cap is an insect: a black-eyed satyr butterfly named in his honor.

An international team of lepidopterists found two new species in the Amazon Basin. Euptychia attenboroughi was named after Sir David. The other species, Euptychia sophiae, was named for team member Thamara Zacca’s niece.

At first, the researchers weren’t sure what they’d found. The two new butterflies looked like other members of the genus Euptychia, but the male specimens were missing the genital bump that’s characteristic of the rest of the genus. To find out for sure, they used molecular testing to compare the new butterflies with museum specimens. Bump-less though they may be, the new guys were definitely Euptychia.

In the journal ZooKeys, the researchers describe the new species and their motivation for naming one of them after Attenborough, who, they write, opened "the eyes and hearts of millions to the natural world through his inspiring and edifying work.” 

The ripples of Sir David’s work have spread far and wide through scientific communities. E. attenboroughi is just one of many species bearing his name. The beloved broadcaster’s moniker is also currently attached to a fossilized fish, a grasshopper preserved in amber, a flowering tree, a wild sunflower, a carnivorous plant, a ghost shrimp, a weevil, a goblin spider, an echidna, an entire genus of flowering plants, and another of extinct marine reptiles. At this rate, he may someday catch up with Darwin himself, whose name has been given to more than 220 species and 24 genera.