Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Animals named after celebrities (part 1)

In the last few decades, it has become commonplace for celebrities to provide the namesake for animals' and insects' scientific names. Whether the scientist that names it is just a fan, or the animal/insect has a characteristic in common with the celebrity, they are always interesting. Here are a few that I thought were worth mentioning.

Calponia harrisonfordi (1993)
Named after: Harrison Ford (actor)
Species: Spider
Why?: As a way of saying thank you for narrating a documentary for the London Museum of Natural History. These spiders appear in the United States.
Other animals/insects: Ford also has an ant species named after him, called Pheidole harrisonfordi.

Avahi cleesei (2005)
Named after: John Cleese (actor and comedian, co-founder of the Monty Python comedy troupe)
Species: Bemaraha Woolly Lemur
Why?: Cleese loves lemurs, simple as that. He's done several documentaries on the subject of lemur conservation. Ironically, this species is likely going to be extinct in the next few decades. They are native to Madagascar.

Pachygnatha zappa (1994)
Named after: Frank Zappa (musician)
Species: Spider
Other animals/insects: Zappa also has a jellyfish named after him (Phialella zappai), because he famously said "There is nothing I'd like better than having a jellyfish named after me." A jellyfish expert named it in 1982 in hopes of meeting Zappa. He did. The story behind this is located here. Other animals that carry his name are Amaurotoma zappa (fossilized snail), and the entire Zappa genus of goby fish that are native only to New Guinea.

Strigiphilus garylarsoni (1989)
Named after: Gary Larson (cartoonist, creator of The Far Side)
Species: Lice (this kind is only found on owls)
Why?: The biologist that named it after Larson said that it was his way of thanking Larson for "the enormous contribution that my colleagues and I feel you have made to biology through your cartoons." Larson reprinted the letter and a picture of the bug in his book "The Prehistory of the Far Side."
Other animals/insects: Larson also has a butterfly named after him (Serratoterga larsoni).

Aptostichus stephencolberti (2008)
Named after: Stephen Colbert (comedian, host of The Colbert Report)
Species: Trapdoor spider
Why?: Colbert publicly complained about Neil Young getting his own trapdoor spider (Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi), and even went so far as to scold the man that named it, Jason Bond, live on his show over the phone. Bond promised he'd name one after Colbert, and he followed through last week.

Expect a follow-up to this article soon, with five more notable animals.

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