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 artist 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.