“Name That Creature” isn’t a reality show – yet – but the scientists playing it sure seem to be having fun. From cartoon characters to rock stars to political heavyweights of all stripes, naming new species is an adventure in pop culture where creative taxonomy knows virtually no limits and is bound by even fewer rules.
Blind Cave Beetle (Anophthalmus hitleri)
Since Adolf Hitler is credited with setting the VW Beetle in motion, it only seems fair that a certain rare species of blind cave beetle, Anophthalmus hitleri (“the eyeless one of Hitler”), was named after him. According to Dutch biologist/writer Midas Dekkers, the name bestowed on the visually-challenged coleopterid in 1933 wasn’t meant as a salute to the former Fuhrer but instead was a calculated insult – yeah, that’s the ticket! These days, the blind beetle’s future existence in a few humid Slovenian caves is threatened by collectors… not of bugs, but of Nazi memorabilia, which proves once more that an association with Hitler is bad for one’s health.
Bemaraha Woolly Lemur (Avahi cleesei)
The endangered Bemaraha Woolly Lemur (Avahi cleesei), known colloquially as Cleese’s Woolly Lemur, was discovered in 1990 but not formally described and named until 2005. The scientists who bestowed the rather Pythonesque name upon this rare lemur species, U. Thalmann and T. Geissmann, state they did so to honor John Cleese. The British actor and comedian has expressed a fondness for lemurs and has worked to protect and preserve them. Cleese’s Woolly Lemur is found in only two locations within Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park in western Madagascar.
Sand Crab (Albunea groeningi)
Being honored by inclusion in a new species’ scientific name may not seem so honorable if the honoree isn’t a huge fan of the species. Take the marine sans crab Albunea Groeningi, for instance. Measuring under an inch in length and found in oceanic sediments from Japan south to Australia, the species named in 2002 for The Simpsons creator Matt Groening isn’t the kind of critter you can plunk into a home aquarium to impress dinner guests. We’ll forgive Groening if he’s feeling a mite crabby… DOH!
Australian Horsefly (Scaptia beyonceae)
Does it sing or sting… or both? Celebrity recording star and actress Beyonce Knowles must have been bemused by her new namesake, Scaptia beyonceae, a species of horsefly with a large and prominent golden bottom. Anything else would just be a buzzkill. The bootylicious bug from the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland, Australia, was first collected in 1981, the year Knowles was born, though it wasn’t formally described and named until 2011.
Borneo Boletus Mushroom (Spongiforma squarepantsii)
Can a cartoon character be a celebrity? Why sure, just ask any pre-teen! If a more studied opinion is desired, look to Dr. Dennis Desjardin of San Francisco State University (above) – he’s the scientist dude who, in late 2010, dubbed a sweet-smelling, orangey, spongey (of course) boletus mushroom Spongiforma squarepantsii. Desjardin isn’t saying why he chose to honor Spongebob Squarepants when naming the native of northern Borneo, perhaps he was inspired after munching a few of the mushrooms.
Trilobites (Mackenziurus johnnyi, joeyi, deedeei, ceejayi)
You know you’ve made it as a “rock” star when you’ve been immortalized by having 400-million-year-old fossilized creatures named after you. So it is with The Ramones, seminal punk rockers who influenced a generation of guitar groups and, unlikely as it may seem, a couple of paleontologists. One would like to think discoverers Adrian and Edgecombe came up with the names in 1997 while digging for trilobite fossils on Rockaway Beach. Gabba gabba hey!!