I recently learned that there is a mite (Litarachna lopezae) named after Jennifer Lopez, which I found particularly interesting since the same is true of my husband. That’s right, Petalomium hofstetteri, was named after my husband, Richard Hofstetter, to recognize his extensive work with mites. Lopez was chosen because her music kept the scientists going during their research. It’s worth noting that her mite lives in the waters off Puerto Rico, so the naming choice honors her Puerto Rican heritage as well as her music. James Brown was chosen as the inspiration for the name of yet another mite, Funkotriplogynium iagobadius. (Iago is a version of James in various languages including Portuguese and Welsh, and badius is Latin for brown.)
Many other musicians have animal species named after them. Sources of inspiration range from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven to Mick Jagger, John Lennon and Sid Vicious. Elvis was immortalized in the moniker of the gall wasp, Preseucoela imallshookupis. Scientists used part of his last name (Pres) and the song “I’m All Shook Up” so that nobody could question that they were honoring the King. Scaptia beyonceae is a fly with a striking golden behind that the researchers considered bootylicious, prompting them to name it after Beyonce. The wasp Aleiodes shakirae lays its eggs in the body of a live caterpillar. As the young develop, the still-living host bends and twists its body in a way that brought Shakira’s dancing to mind. Hyla stingi is a Colombian tree frog named after Sting in recognition of his support of the rain forest.
A number of famous writers have also been immortalized in animals’ names. The extinct whale, Livyatan melvillei, is named after Herman Melville. Arthurdactylus conandoylei is a pterodactyloid pterosaur whose remains were found in the jungle near where The Lost World was set — a thoughtful tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his novel featuring pterosaurs. Shireplitis tolkieni is a braconid wasp named after J.R.R. Tolkien. Five additional species in the genus are named after hobbits from The Lord of the Rings.
Vladimir Nabokov was an avid butterfly collector who even worked at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology organizing their extensive butterfly collection. It should come as no surprise that multiple butterfly species are named after him, including the entire genus Nabokovia. It’s just as noteworthy that he chose the names for some species himself, as he was the first to recognize a number of new ones.
Though not an author, Godric Gryffindor is a literary figure who has a spider named after him. The scientists were inspired by Eriovixia gryffindori’s strong resemblance to the Hogwarts Sorting Hat once owned by Gryffindor in the Harry Potter series. Author J.K. Rowling’s response was to tweet, “I’m truly honoured! Congratulations on discovering another #FantasticBeast!” There are also spiders named after the actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, who both played Spider-Man in films.
Naming animal species after famous people is clearly great fun for many biologists, and allows them to showcase their creativity and personal interests.