30 Animal Species With Pop Culture-Inspired Names
Vader bugs, Gollum sharks, and Beyoncé flies?
You’d be forgiven for thinking the scientific names of your favorite animals are pretty humorless. After all, at a quick glance, they seem like nothing more than combinations of Latin and biological jargon. But look closely, and you’ll find that some species have scientific names with hidden tributes to movies, TV shows, and other pop culture icons.
It’s true! There are insects named after Pokémon, frogs named after rock stars, and spiders named after superheroes. For a look at the most culturally inspired bestiary, here are 30 animals that prove, sometimes, biologists like to have fun with their nomenclature.
If you’re going to name something after Beyoncé, you’d think it would be more majestic than a horse fly. (At least a queen bee, right?) But alas, scientists decided to name the Scaptia beyonceae after the pop star. Researcher Byran Lessard—who co-authored a 2011 paper in the Australian Journal of Entomology about the fly’s discovery—told Science Daily he named the bug after Queen Bey for the “unique dense golden hairs on the fly’s abdomen.” Okay, then!
Among the 807 creatures that make up the Pokémon universe, few are more intimidating than Charizard, a dragon-like beast that wouldn’t look out of place on an episode of Game of Thrones. So you wouldn’t be wrong to imagine that, in the real world, something named after Charizard would be equally intimidating—a giant lizard, a lightning-fast shark, a fierce jungle cat—and not… a bee? But, as Canadian scientist (and huge Pokéfan) Spencer K. Monckton explained to BuzzFeed, the Chilicola charizard “has a long snout and orange hue where similar species have yellow.”
Fiordichthys slartibartfasti, the name of a fjord-swimming New Zealand fish, might look like nonsense, but any fan of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will recognize it. It’s the moniker of a designer of planets—one who was especially proud of his work creating the fjords of Norway. As it happens, another fish in the same family bears the name Bidenichthys beeblebroxi, another reference to Adams’ book.
The Harry Potterverse has provided the inspiration for a number of names of animal species. In keeping with the strangeness of the fiction’s nomenclature, most of them are strange, too. One trapdoor spider, a member of the Nemesiidae family, was named after Aragog, a spider once owned by Hagrid. And for more on how the Boy Who Lived affects our culture, here are 35 Ways Harry Potter Is Still Crazy Relevant.
Here’s another Potter-related spider, this one named after the Hogwarts house, Gryffindor. There’s an especially good reason for this reference, besides the fact that the arachnologists who discovered it are huge fans of J.K. Rowling. The Eriovixia gryffindori’s wide body struck the researchers as very similar to the wizardly Sorting Hat, which was originally owned by fictional wizard (and House Gryffindor namesake) Godric Gryffindor.
And here’s one last Potter creature! This milky-colored, pseudozioid crab, which lives among hunks of dead coral off the coasts of Guam, is named after Severus Snape, the sarcastic and cutting teacher headmaster of Hogwarts, famously depicted in the films by the late, great Alan Rickman.
This extinct, supposedly carnivorous dinosaur was named after the demonic Eye of Sauron from Lord of the Rings, an appropriately imposing moniker, according to Andrea Cau, the scientist who named the Sauroniops pachytholus. “The idea of a predator that is physically known only as its fierce eye reminded me of Sauron, in particular as depicted in Peter Jackson’s movies,” Cau told National Geographic.
There is a New Zealand shark named for another classic character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: the conflicted, ring-obsessed Golum. Why? In a 1973 paper describing the sea dweller, the researchers noted the Gollum suluensis “bears some resemblance in form and habits” to the antihero of the trilogy.
Sometimes naming a species after someone is not exactly meant to be flattering. The fact that researchers looked at the fossil of an extinct swamp dweller and thought “Mick Jagger” might be less than delightful to the Rolling Stones frontman. However, it’s not the creature’s age that earned it the name, but its huge lips. “I’m a huge Stones fan,” Dr. Ellen Miller, of Wake Forest University in North Carolina, who was part of a team who found the fossil, told The Telegraph. “Some of my colleagues suggested naming the new species after Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, because she also has famous lips. But for me it had to be Mick.”
The Star Wars universe offers tons of inspiration for the naming of species. One species of moth, discovered in western Mexico in 2009, apparently looked a bit like the beloved Chewbacca, with the researchers citing the “very large and hairy Wookiee” in their original paper about the Wockia chewbaccca.
This intimidating trapdoor spider, which lures insects into its pit-shaped web, reminded arachnologist Jason Bond, of the University of Auburn, of the tentacled and insatiable Star Wars monster Sarlacc. The creature first appeared in Return of the Jedi as a massive hole in the desert floor, swallowing up all those unfortunate enough to fall into its trap.
What frightening animal could earn the name of one of the greatest villains in cinematic history? It’s actually a mere Australian mite that’s named after Darth Vader. Discovered in 1996 by Australian researchers, the Darthvaderum greensladeae is one of numerous bugs bearing the Dark Lord of the Sith’s name, including a slime-mold beetle, a housefly, and a wasp. Looks like the force is strong among the arthropoda!
Why would you name a species of Brazilian tree frog after a heavy metal pioneer who famously bit the head off of a live bat on stage? Because it makes a shrill call that sounds like a bat! As Pedro Peloso, who helped discover this amphibian, told National Geographic, “As soon as I heard its call, I knew it was a new species. I had never heard anything like it.” For that reason, he and his colleagues felt like it was appropriate to pay homage to Ozzy Osbourne with theDendropsophus Ozzyi.
Stephen Colbert’s notorious alter ego from The Colbert Report was not shy about asking scientists to name things after him. But having a spider dubbed in his honor wasn’t enough. As Quentin Wheeler, one of the researchers who discovered the Agaporomorphus colberti, explained: “Stephen shamelessly asked the science community to name something cooler than a spider to honor him. His top choices were a giant ant or a laser lion. While those would be cool species to discover, our research involves beetles, and they are ‘way cooler’ than a spider any day.” So, meet the Colbert-named diving beetle!
This Costa Rican carabid beetle has an impressive figure: Its middle femora looks something like biceps, giving it the look that brings to mind the Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Actress Liv Tyler would not seem like an obvious name for a Costa Rican beetle recognized for its impressive longevity. But researchers had her filmography in mind when naming this insect after the star. As they wrote in a 2002 paper detailing their discovery, “The existence of [this] elegant beetle is dependent upon the rainforest not undergoing an Armageddon.” (If you’ll recall, Tyler starred in the 1998 sci-fi drama Armageddon, alongside Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and Ben Affleck.)
Sylvilagus palustris hefneri
Both rabbits and the man who founded the Playboy empire are known for their prolific mating habits. But this marsh rabbit earned the Hugh Hefner moniker because of the iconic cartoon bunny that makes up Playboy’s logo.
Fans of The Big Bang Theory can appreciate the inspiration for this Brazilian orchid bee, discovered by biologist Andre Nemesio.
“Sheldon Cooper’s favorite comic word ‘bazinga,’ used by him when tricking somebody, was here chosen to represent the character,” Nemesio wrote in a 2012 paper announcing the tricky Euglossa bazinga. Nemesio also explained that the goofy name was not just an homage to the character, but a way to draw additional attention to an insect whose habitat was rapidly being destroyed.
This parasitic wasp can cause its host caterpillar to wiggle and shake after it takes over its body—and that struck researchers who discovered it as reminiscent of a certain Colombian singer known for her hip-shaking moves. But while the funky dancing the wasp induces might be Shakira-like, the rest of what it does to its prey is pretty gruesome: The wasp injects its eggs inside of the caterpillar, where they hatch and slowly eat the host from the inside, with the desiccated body serving as a cocoon. (There’s an “Underneath Your Clothes” joke in there, but we’ll let you come to the punchline.)
Brad Pitt also has a parasitic wasp named after him. This charming creature, prevalent in South Africa, lays its eggs in a host, causing larvae to essentially mummify, according to a 2016 study published in ZooKeys. Why this 2mm-long insect was named after the famously good-looking actor is not clear, though it does have a brownish body, with brown-yellow legs that maybe look a bit like the star’s long hair during his World War Z era?
What does an Amazonian tarantula have to do with John Lennon? Basically nothing, according to Fernando Pérez-Miles, an entomologist at Uruguay’s University of the Republic, who helped discover it. Speaking with National Geographic, the reason behind the nomenclature is quite simple, really: “I have been waiting for a while to dedicate a species to Lennon because I am a fan of the Beatles. I decided not to wait anymore.” Hence, the Bumba Lennoni.
What kind of animal would you expect to be named after Tobey Maguire, whose most famous role was as a web-slinging superhero? You guessed correct. This “crevice weaver” spider, found in the Alborz Mountains in northern Iran, is “venomous, but [does] not pose a risk to humans,” according to researchers. The same team named a similar crevice dweller after Maguire’s spidey successor, Andrew Garfield: the Pritha garfieldi.
Sure, this toothy, deer-like mammal hasn’t roamed the earth for about 50 million years. But its 2014 discovery in Wyoming prompted researchers to name it after iconic pop star Lady Gaga. Why, you ask? Easy: It’s a “little monster!” (That’s the nickname Gaga affectionately and famously gives her fans.)
For anyone familiar with The Far Side cartoons, human-sized insects are everyday sights. So it makes sense that the etymologists who discovered this biting louse (which prefers to feast on owls) took the opportunity to dub it with a name referencing the off-kilter comic’s creator, Gary Larson. They attributed the honor to Larson’s “enormous contribution … to biology through [his] cartoons.”
This rove beetle combines two cultural influences: Charles Darwin, who collected the insects and studied them during his tour on the HMS Beagle, and satirist David Sedaris, whose audiobooks the researchers listened to while preparing their specimens. Enter the Darwinilus sedarisi.
Though technically a “velvet worm,” this animal looks like a caterpillar—or, for the researcher who named it, a bit like a CatBus, one of the characters in the beloved Studio Ghibli animated film My Neighbor Totoro. As Gwen Pearson wrote about the creature for Wired, its numerous, jointless legs look a bit like the CatBus from afar (outside of the fact that there’s not a tiny person riding inside of it).
This extinct sea cucumber roamed the Earth about 430 million years ago and it’s named after the titular tentacled entity in H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, The Call of Cthulhu. According to 2019 research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, this sea cuke’s tentacles were enormous, giving it a Cthulhu-like appearance.
This Taiwanese land snail with both male and female reproductive parts is not named after a specific celebrity or character. But it is culturally relevant as its name is a celebration of same-sex marriage and the “diversity of sexual orientation in the animal kingdom,” as Dr. Yen-Chang Lee, who co-authored the paper announcing the species, explained to The Guardian.
No, the species named after Nickelodeon’s beloved SpongeBob Squarepants is not, in fact, a sponge—though it does look like one! This isn’t an animal either—it’s a type of mushroom, discovered in 2011 by researchers in the forests of Borneo in Southeast Asia, that resembles “a seafloor carpeted in tube sponges,” according to the BBC.
This water beetle was not named after the Titanic and Revenant star because of any resemblance, according to Iva Njunjić, who helped discover the insect. “We wanted to highlight that even the smallest creature is important, such as this tiny beetle that nobody knew about before now,” she explained to The Guardian. Sure, it also helps that Leonardo DiCaprio is a big environmentalist and supporter of fighting climate change, which can endanger such animals before they’ve even been discovered. And for more on that, here are 15 Animal Species Miraculously Saved From Extinction.
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