December 21, 2020
Sometimes celebrities reach such dizzying heights of popularity, their fame can no longer be contained within the confines of film, TV, music or pop culture. In fact, some famous faces get so big, biologists name their latest fish and marine animal discoveries after them.
Believe it or not, there’s a whole host of creatures with celebrity names, including a spider named after Angeline Jolie, a pterosaur named after Steven Spielberg, and a wasp named after Shakira.
Here, we’re diving into the world’s waters to uncover some amazing fish and marine animals that have been named after celebrities.
Species: Crustacean (Cirolana mercuryi)
The discovery of a tiny isopod in the waters off Bawe Island near Zanzibar, Tanzania led biologists to name it after a particularly famous figure, Queen’s iconic frontman, Freddie Mercury. Despite Queen being one of the most distinctly British rock bands in history, Freddie was born and raised in Stone Town on Zanzibar, where his father worked as a cashier at the British Colonial Office.
Species: Crustacean (Leucothoe eltoni)
Believed to be native to the coral reefs of Raja Ampat, Indonesia, this crustacean was named after the legendary pop star and composer Elton John. With its large, shoe-like appendage, it was the oversized boots Sir Elton wore in the movie Tommy that inspired scientists to bestow the crustacean with its famous moniker.
Species: Fish (Materpiscis attenboroughi)
It makes sense that someone who has dedicated their life to documenting wildlife would one day have a marine animal named after him. That’s exactly what happened when, in 2005, a scientific expedition to the Gogo Formation – a reef system in Western Australia – discovered the only known specimen of this prehistoric fish species. Found with an unborn embryo inside, it’s actually the oldest example of a vertebrate giving birth to live young.
Species: Fish (Etheostoma obama)
When scientists Steve Layman and Rick Mayden discovered five new species while studying colour variations in another type of darter fish, they decided to name them after US politicians known for their conservation efforts. Sounding like a marine-y take on Mount Rushmore, their discoveries name-checked Bill Clinton, Theodore Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, and Al Gore, along with former US president Barack Obama. Obama was ultimately chosen by the scientists because of his work in the areas of clean energy and environmental protection.
Species: Acorn worm (Yoda purpurata)
Ok, so while the legendary Jedi master isn’t really a celebrity, he’s still a certified pop culture icon who definitely deserves having a marine animal named after him. On discovering a reddish-purple worm one-and-a-half miles beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, scientists felt the same way, bestowing the worm with the name ‘Yoda’ because the large lips on either side of its head reminded them of the legendary Star Wars character.
Species: Nudibranch (Mandelia mirocornata)
Scientists named this nudibranch, a soft-bodied mollusc, after one of the most inspirational and iconic figures in all of history, the legendary former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Thought to be endemic to Mandela’s home country, it’s been found exclusively in the waters stretching from the Atlantic side of the Cape Peninsula to Port Elizabeth country’s east coast. What’s the significance of this? Well, within this range lies Robben Island, the prison where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years because of his role in the fight against South Africa’s apartheid regime.
Species: Artiopoda (Aegrotocatellus Jaggeri)
We’ll resist the urge to make a joke about the iconic Rolling Stones vocalist Mick Jagger being a fossil in his own right, but it’s hard not to when scientists named an extinct arthropod after the Stones’ singer. Discovered in 1995 when Jagger was a spritely 52 years of age, he’s also been immortalised by other palaeontologists in the form of a fossilised mollusc called the Anomphalus jaggerius. His Stones bandmate Keith Richards has also been given the same treatment, when another similar species was discovered around the same time and given the name Perirehaedulus richardsi.
Species: Crustacean (Gnathia marleyi)
It’s a little strange that a marine animal that undergoes such a bizarre cycle of events in its life is named after a musician that brought joy to many people, but nevertheless, that’s just what marine biologist Paul Sikkel did when he discovered this tiny parasitic crustacean in the US Virgin Islands in 2002. Naming it after his favourite reggae musician because he felt both were uniquely Caribbean, that’s seemingly where the similarities end. The Gnathia marleyi spends the first part of its life feeding on the blood and mucus of its host fish. After this lovely meal, it stops feeding and spends the rest of its life trying to reproduce, until it eventually dies of starvation.
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