Yes! New species are always being discovered and one of the biggest challenges scientists face when trying to classify each new animal is coming up with a name for it. Accordingly, some who have discovered new species have seen it fit to pay homage to some of society’s most influential and important people by naming their discoveries after them. Most of these species tend to be insects or other small creatures that can avoid capture and categorization for years. Literally hundreds of species have been named after all kinds of people from rock stars like Jerry Garcia and Mick Jagger to famous artists like Mozart and William Shakespeare, even Darth Vader has a beetle named after him. Here are just a few of the most interesting ones but for a complete list, click here.
The Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit:
Officially recognized as its own species in 1990, Sylvilagus palustris hefneri, more commonly known as the Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit gets its scientific name from Playboy Founder Hugh Hefner. These small rabbits were once abundant throughout the Florida Keys; however human encroachment and habitat destruction have left only small, isolated populations on a few remote islands. Since being classified as a separate species, the Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit has been placed on the Endangered Species List and numerous conservation efforts have been launched to restore their numbers throughout the Keys.
Calponia harrisonfordi is a species of spider first described in 1993 that was named after American actor Harrison Ford. The discovering scientist, arachnologist Norman I. Platnick, named the spider after Ford to thank him for narrating a documentary made by the London Museum of Natural History that featured among other things, some rare footage of many new and species such as C. harrisonfordi. Native to California, these rare spiders are relatively small and reclusive, growing to only about 5 millimeters in length.
Genus Agathidium and the Bush Administration:
Although they were discovered nearly two centuries before, many of the beetles in the genus Agathidium were only named recently. Recently, three species; A. bushi, Agathidium cheneyi, and A. rumsfeldi were all named in honor of former President George W Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfled respectively. It is quite common for species to remain nameless for several years. In some cases, scientists may be hesitant to name a species because they are not sure how to accurately describe it taxonomically. In other cases, species may remain nameless until scientists see fit to bestow the honor one someone such as the President.
Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi and Aptostichus stephencolberti:
Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi was one of several new species of trapdoor spider recently described in a 2007 report from East Carolina University. The discovering scientist, a professor of Biology named Jason E. Bond chose to name one of the new species after famous Canadian singer and songwriter Neil Young because not only is Young his favorite musician, but Bond appreciates the activism and messages of peace and justice Young conveyed in his music. The species gained some notoriety after American comedian Stephen Colbert had Bond on his Comedy Central show. Avid members of the Colbert Nation (viewers of his show) will remember that when Bond appeared on The Colbert Report in 2008, during which Colbert lobbied for one of the 27 as of then unnamed spiders be named after him. Although he failed to convince Bond during the interview, Colbert later revealed on another episode that a spider would indeed be named after him. On August 6th 2008 during his show Colbert officially announced one of the new species would be given the scientific name Aptostichus stephencolberti. During another guest appearance on the program, Bond jokingly added, “And all I had to do was shamelessly beg on national television.” Interesting fact, those who have seen the program are familiar that Stephen Colbert pronounces his name with a silent ‘T’ at the end; accordingly, the ‘T’ and the end of A. stephencolberti is also silent.
To see a video from this episode of The Colbert Report, click here!
The Bill Gates and Paul Allen Flow Flies:
Bill Gates and Paul Allen are internationally recognized for forming the technology giant Microsoft. There is no denying that with the help of technology scientists have been able to examine more data faster than was ever though possible. With the help of companies like Microsoft, entomologists have been able to describe and classify each new species of insect in a practice known as taxonomy. So when two new species of flower fly were discovered in the Costa Rican rainforest, it seemed fitting to honor each man’s contribution by naming one after them. Accordingly, the two species were named Eristalis gatesi and Eristalis alleni in honor of Gates and Allen respectively.
The name Adolf Hitler conjures up images of the worst things people are capable of; however this brutal dictator’s legacy will continue to live on through a species of beetle that shares the infamous name ‘Hitler’. Named Anophthalmus hitleri, this benign insect is one of more than one hundred species of blind cave beetle that are found in a only a handful of humid caves in Slovenia. The creature was first cataloged by Western scientists after German collector Oscar Scheibel obtained the then unnamed specimen in 1933. In a letter to the Führer, Scheibel expressed his appreciation of Hitler and insisted the new species be named in his honor. Although some have questioned the appropriateness of the name, scientists are usually resistant to change the name of a species once it is given with a few exceptions; because of this, A. hitleri will probably keep its name until its memory is lost from the science books.
curioustaxonomy.net has a long list of species named after famous people. There are too many to list here, but some of the highlights are an hourglass-shaped trilobite named after Marilyn Monroe and three slime mold beetle species named after George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld.
Cartoonist Gary Larson explained his feelings after scientists asked to name an owl louse after him: “I considered this an extreme honor. Besides, I knew no one was going to write and ask to name a new swan after me. You have to grab these opportunities when they come along.”
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