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Schwarzenegger Beetles (and other celebrity species)

Recently, Stephen Colbert had a segment on his show where he celebrated a great honor: a spider being named after him. John Cleese said last week that having a lemur named after him was an honor he liked more than the possibility of knighthood. It's not unusual for species to be named after celebrities. In fact, a look through nature's nomenclature is practically equal parts Latin textbook and US Weekly. But how do celebrities get this honor?

Some scientists saw a resemblance between their creatures and the celebrities in question. For example, the Agra schwarzeneggeri is a beetle with a developed middle femora, which resembles a bulging bicep, not unlike bodybuilder/actor/governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's. Or there's the Greeffiella beatlei, a worm with particularly shaggy fur reminiscent of the Beatles' early haircuts.

Other celebrities got the honor because they are so admired by scientists. Geeky comic larson bug.gifartist Gary Larson, best known for The Far Side, is widely idolized in the scientific community (what lab doesn't have a copy of a Far Side cartoon taped up somewhere?), so it only made sense that he would be given a species of his own. He was memorialized with the Strigiphilus garylarsoni (shown at the left), a louse. Noted environmental activist Harrison Ford also got an ant (Pheidole harrisonfordi) named after him for his work with Conservation International.

A few other interesting names and their origins:

  • Mastophora dizzydeani, named after baseball pitcher Dizzy Dean. This spider is one of the Bolas spiders, which catch their prey by "pitching" a ball of sticky silk blob attached to a thread.
  • Campsicnemius charliechaplini, named after Charlie Chaplin. These flies tend to die with their legs up in a bandy-legged position, similar to Chaplin's signature stance.
  • Fantasy author Terry Pratchett has the turtle Psephophorus terrypratchetti for his series of books where the world is housed on a turtle's back.
  • Orson Welles has a series of spiders named after him and his more famous roles: Orsonwelles othello, Orsonwelles macbeth, Orsonwelles falstaffius and Orsonwelles ambersonorum
  • Hugh Hefner has a rabbit (natch) named after him: the Sylvilagus palustris hefneri.
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Can You 'Hear' These Silent GIFs?
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GIFs are silent—otherwise they wouldn't be GIFs. But some people claim to hear distinct noises accompanying certain clips. Check out the GIF below as an example: Do you hear a boom every time the structure hits the ground? If so, you may belong to the 20 to 30 percent of people who experience "visual-evoked auditory response," also known as vEAR.

Researchers from City University London recently published a paper online on the phenomenon in the journal Cortex, the British Psychological Society's Research Digest reports. For their study, they recruited more than 4000 volunteers and 126 paid participants and showed them 24 five-second video clips. Each clip lacked audio, but when asked how they rated the auditory sensation for each video on a scale of 0 to 5, 20 percent of the paid participants rated at least half the videos a 3 or more. The percentage was even higher for the volunteer group.

You can try out the researchers' survey yourself. It takes about 10 minutes.

The likelihood of visual-evoked auditory response, according to the researchers, directly relates to what the subject is looking at. "Some people hear what they see: Car indicator lights, flashing neon shop signs, and people's movements as they walk may all trigger an auditory sensation," they write in the study.

Images packed with meaning, like two cars colliding, are more likely to trigger the auditory illusion. But even more abstract images can produce the effect if they have high levels of something called "motion energy." Motion energy is what you see in the video above when the structure bounces and the camera shakes. It's why a video of a race car driving straight down a road might have less of an auditory impact than a clip of a flickering abstract pattern.

The researchers categorize vEAR as a type of synesthesia, a brain condition in which people's senses are combined. Those with synesthesia might "see" patterns when music plays or "taste" certain colors. Most synesthesia is rare, affecting just 4 percent of the population, but this new study suggests that "hearing motion synesthesia" is much more prevalent.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

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The Surprising Link Between Language and Depression
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Skim through the poems of Sylvia Plath, the lyrics of Kurt Cobain, or posts on an internet forum dedicated to depression, and you'll probably start to see some commonalities. That's because there's a particular way that people with clinical depression communicate, whether they're speaking or writing, and psychologists believe they now understand the link between the two.

According to a recent study published in Clinical Psychological Science, there are certain "markers" in a person's parlance that may point to symptoms of clinical depression. Researchers used automated text analysis methods to comb through large quantities of posts in 63 internet forums with more than 6400 members, searching for certain words and phrases. They also noted average sentence length, grammatical patterns, and other factors.

What researchers found was that a person's use (or overuse) of first-person pronouns can provide some insight into the state of their mental health. People with clinical depression tend to use more first-person singular pronouns, such as "I" and "me," and fewer third-person pronouns, like "they," "he," or "she." As Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of Reading and the head of the study, writes in a post for IFL Science:

"This pattern of pronoun use suggests people with depression are more focused on themselves, and less connected with others. Researchers have reported that pronouns are actually more reliable in identifying depression than negative emotion words."

What remains unclear, though, is whether people who are more focused on themselves tend to depression, or if depression turns a person's focus on themselves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people with depression also use more negative descriptors, like "lonely" and "miserable."

But, Al-Mosaiwi notes, it's hardly the most important clue when using language to assess clinical depression. Far better indicators, he says, are the presence of "absolutist words" in a person's speech or writing, such as "always," "constantly," and "completely." When overused, they tend to indicate that someone has a "black-and-white view of the world," Al-Mosaiwi says. An analysis of posts on different internet forums found that absolutist words were 50 percent more prevalent on anxiety and depression forums, and 80 percent more prevalent on suicidal ideation forums.

Researchers hope these types of classifications, supported by computerized methods, will prove more and more beneficial in a clinical setting.

[h/t IFL Science]

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