There are Star Wars fans everywhere, including among the scientists who study life on Earth. When these scientists get to name a new species, they often name it after a family member or respected mentor. However, some choose another direction—especially if they're naming a lot of species at once. That’s when the real nerdiness comes out. Here are 17 species whose names were inspired by Star Wars.
A team led by David Adams of the Smithsonian Institution identified two new moth species in western Mexico in 2009. One was named Wockia mexicana and the other Wockia chewbacca. The researchers referred to the Star Wars character Chewbacca as a “very large and hairy Wookiee” in the original paper [PDF]. The oversized, hirsute moths have similar characteristics.
The fossil remains of an extinct ruminant were discovered last year in Spain. The animal lived about 16 million years ago and had three distinctive horns. It belongs to the palaeomerycidae family, which is believed to include the ancient ancestor of the giraffe. Israel Sánchez of the National Museum of Natural History in Madrid led the team of Spanish and German scientists studying the creature. He said they named the animal Xenokeryx amidalae after the Star Wars character Padmé Amidala because its horns resembled the outlandish hairstyles she wore when she was queen of Naboo.
Discovered in 2012, Tetramorium jedi is a species of ant native to Madagascar. Entomologists Francisco Hita Garcia and Brian Fisher described dozens of new ant species in the same research paper [PDF], so they apparently turned to many sources to name them.
But T. jedi wasn’t the first ant named for a Star Wars term. In 2003, Fernando Fernández dubbed a Colombian ant Adelomyrmex vaderi, perhaps because, like Vader, it towers over others of its kind, being one of the largest ants in its genus.
Arachnologist Jason Bond of the University of Auburn discovered 33 new species of trapdoor spider in the U.S. and published their names in 2012. He named one after his daughter Elisabeth and others after various celebrities, including Bono, Cesar Chavez, and Barack Obama. And then there is Aptostichus sarlacc, inspired by the slow-digesting monster known as the Sarlacc, which appeared in the film Return of the Jedi. It’s an appropriate name for a trapdoor spider, which catches its prey by luring insects into a web shaped like a pit that resembles the Sarlacc’s mouth.
— Stephen Heard (@StephenBHeard) May 11, 2015
The Dark Lord of the Sith lends his name to the Australian mite Darthvaderum greensladeae, named in 1996 by G.S. Hunt. The only member of the genus, the species is also sometimes referred to as Novazelandiella greensladeae.
Jonathan Armbruster of the Auburn University Museum of Natural History named a new species of suckermouth armored catfish last year. Since he thought it bore a "striking resemblance" to the bounty hunter Greedo (who Han Solo shot in the first Star Wars movie), he named it Peckoltia greedoi. The first known specimen was found in 1998 but remained unnamed until last year. Armbruster has been a dedicated Star Wars fan since childhood.
While studying crabs in Taiwan in 2003, John Markham and Christopher Boyko discovered an isopod parasite that lived in the gills of the crab Albunea groeningi. The researchers said [PDF] they named the parasite Albunione yoda because curved lateral extensions on the female mite's head are reminiscent of Yoda's "long drooping ears."
El escarabajo Darth Vader (Agathidium Vaderi) pic.twitter.com/QJlwjxXAjy
— Su Atención x Favor (@suatencion) May 10, 2016
Agathidium is a genus of slime-mold beetles. When entomologists Quentin Wheeler and Kelly Miller named three species of Agathidium for George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld in 2005, it made headlines; but the researchers actually described 62 other species of slime-mold beetles in the same paper. Those included insects called after the entomologists’ wives, historical figures, and fictional characters. Agathidium vaderi was named after Darth Vader because it has “a broad, shiny, helmetlike head.”
As you've probably noticed by now, entomologists seem to be especially inspired by Darth Vader. Here's another example. Thricops vaderi is a species of housefly named by Jade Savage in 2003 when she published a paper naming six new species of Thricops.
In a recent article in the journal ZooKeys, a group of scientists described four new species of weevil beetles found in Papua New Guinea. They named one Trigonopterus chewbacca after the Wookiee we all know and love. (Note its bristling body, above.) The researchers wrote, "This species has dense scales on the head and the legs, which reminds the authors of Chewbacca’s dense fur."
12. MIDICHLORIA MITOCHONDRII
Australian postdoctoral student Nate Lo was researching ticks for the University of Milan, in particular pathogens they carry that could affect humans. In 2004, he discovered bacteria that infected tick ovary cells in a way scientists hadn’t seen before: They nestle inside a cell’s mitochondria instead of the cytoplasm. As Lo searched for an appropriate name for the organism, he read about the midi-chlorians of the Star Wars universe (mentioned only in the prequels): intelligent microorganisms that infect humans and, at a certain level, bestow the power of the Force. The bacteria inside the ticks' ovary cells don't seem to be as beneficial, but they don't appear to harm the ticks either. Before publishing, Lo consulted George Lucas and got his permission for the name Midichloria mitochondrii.
— Charlotte L Powell (@CharliePowellUK) April 18, 2015
Scientists have used The Force (at least taxonomically speaking) for a long time. In 1983, entomologists Arnold Menke and Charles Vincent described and named three new species of wasp Polemistus vaderi, Polemistus yoda, and Polemistus chewbacca. We shouldn’t be surprised. Menke is the entomologist who named a species of wasp Aha ha in 1977, and another Pison Eu in 1988.
The name Yoda purpurata literally means “purple Yoda.” That’s the name researchers gave in 2012 to a deep-sea acorn worm that has large lips, which its discoverers thought resembled Yoda’s ears. The scientists also discovered two other new species of acorn worms during the same expedition using remotely operated vehicles to observe the sea floor, but the one called Yoda is the one that got all the press.
The Han solo trilobite—which died perhaps 470 million years ago—was first described in a paper by Samuel Turvey in 2004. In the published paper, he attributed the genus name to the Han people of China, as that’s where the fossils were found, and the species name solo because it is the only species in the genus. However, Turvey admitted that he was dared to name the species after a Star Wars character.
Receiving an organ transplant is a notoriously difficult process. By one estimate, there are 122,000 patients waiting for donated organs across the United States, and each day, 22 people die due to shortages of available organs from donors. So it’s no surprise that in 2014, when Stan Larkin’s heart failed, he couldn’t immediately get a transplant.
Larkin, now 25, was discharged from his hospital at the University of Michigan, though. And for 555 days, he lived without a real heart. Instead, an artificial heart implanted inside him—powered by a driver he wore in a backpack—kept him alive.
Larkin has a genetic disease called familial cardiomyopathy, which prevents his heart from being able to pump blood as efficiently as someone without the disease. He was the first person in the state of Michigan to be discharged from the hospital temporarily implanted with a total artificial heart.
But he wasn't the only one in his family. His brother Dominique, who also has the disease, relied on the same model of artificial heart—SynCardia’s portable Freedom driver—for several weeks before receiving his own transplant. Stan, however, wasn't matched with a donor quite as quickly. Rather than living in the hospital for months, he carried the 13.5-pound driver that powers the heart inside a backpack until he came back to receive a transplant in May.
Oh, and he played basketball with it. The driver had to be exchanged “about 10 times,” one surgeon remarked at a press conference, “because this thing wasn’t built for pick-up basketball.”
“It brought my life back,” Larkin said of the device.
Artificial hearts have been around for decades as temporary methods of keeping a patient alive while waiting for a heart donor, but it’s still relatively rare for patients to leave the hospital completely reliant a mechanical heart. Drivers that keep artificial hearts pumping can weigh more than 400 pounds. The SynCardia device Larkin used was piloted in clinical trials starting in 2010 and approved by the FDA in 2014.
While Larkin may be the first person to test it out on the basketball court, he's not the only user who was determined to stay active with or without a heart. In 2014, a patient used the Freedom driver to walk the course of the 4.2-mile Pat’s Run in Tempe, Arizona.