A Beyonce Horsefly? How Celeb-Inspired Scientific Names Are Born

Friday, December 172 min read

The name you know certain animals by, such as “cat” is its common name. But to scientists, every species on Earth has its own unique two-part name, including the genus, or generic, designation and the species, or specific, designation. This naming system is called binomial nomenclature, which allows scientists to easily communicate about a specific species without confusion. To a biologist, a cat is Felis catus, and within that are the various breeds.

Usually, specific names are based on something about the animal, such as where it lives or a physical trait. But some scientists have fun with the binomial system and name a species after a celebrity, company, or another famous source. From a Beyonce horsefly to a frog named after Prince Charles, find out how these clever scientific names were chosen.

Scaptia beyonceae (Beyonce horsefly)

Back in 2012, Brian Lessard, researcher for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) named a newly found species of horsefly after the world-famous singer. The fly was initially collected in 1981, the same year Beyonce was born. Lessard explained that the dense, golden hairs on the fly reminded him of the flowing locks of the superstar. No word regarding Beyonce's reaction to the naming of the Australian horsefly.

Fedexia strieglei (FedEx Fossil)

Not all scientific names relate to living species — fossilized species need names, too. University of Pittsburgh student Adam Streigel found a 300-million-year old fossil of a new species of amphibian. The fossil was extracted in 2004 on land owned by the major shipping company FedEx, so as a nod to the company and to Streigel, the species was named Fedexia strieglei.

Agra katewinsletae (Kate Winslet beetle)

Kate Winslet is better known for her break-out role in Titanic (1997) than for the beetle named after her, but the two are connected. In 2002, entomologist Terry Erwin decided to name a newly discovered beetle after the Oscar winner in order to perhaps imbue some of Rose’s survival instincts in the beetle. He said of the Costa Rican beetle, “Her character did not go down with the ship, but we will not be able to say the same for this elegant canopy species, if all the rain forest is converted to pastures.”

Gnathia marleyi (Bob Marley Crustacean)

This Jamaican crustacean was named after reggae legend Bob Marley, who was born on the Caribbean island nation. The small, parasitic crustacean was named in 2021 by Paul Sikkel, a marine biologist at Arkansas State University, out of “respect and admiration” for the singer-songwriter.

Effigia okeeffeae (Georgia O’Keeffe Fossil)

As a leader in the modern art movement, painter Georgia O'Keeffe lived in northern New Mexico, near the site of this archaeological find. The fossil is a six-foot toothless crocodile relative, found in 2006 by two Columbia University scientists.

Agra schwarzeneggeri (Arnold Schwarzenegger beetle)

Discovered in Costa Rica, this insect earned its name thanks to a resemblance to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the world-famous bodybuilder turned actor turned politician. Specifically, the beetle's pronounced middle femora, which resemble bulky biceps, led to this naming.

Hyloscirtus princecharlesi (Prince Charles frog)

This highly endangered species of tree frog lives in the forests of Ecuador. The species was first collected in 2009 by scientist Luis Coloma, who named the frog after Charles, Prince of Wales in honor of his financial support for the preservation of tropical rainforests. In 2012, the scientist had the opportunity to meet the crown prince and discuss the frog.

Featured image credit: ZU_09/ iStock

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