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Robert L. Curry

11 Organisms Scientifically Named After Fictional Characters

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Robert L. Curry

Scientific names hail from a variety of sources, with the realm of fiction providing hundreds of creative titles for various organisms over the years. Here are 11 of the most unusual.

1. Oedipina complex

Encyclopedia of Life

A species of Costa Rican salamander named for Sophocles’ drama Oedipus rex and Sigmund Freud’s infamous psychoanalytic theory based thereon.

2. Iago garricki

A fish named in part after the notorious villain of Shakespeare’s Othello.

3. Bagheera kiplingi

Robert L. Curry

Amazingly, this Central American jumping spider named after Bagheera—a benevolent panther which helps guide young Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book—is the first predominantly-vegetarian spider known to science. 

4. Han solo

The genus name, “Han,” was originally based on the Han nationality, China’s largest ethnic group. When the time came to assign a species name to this long-extinct trilobite, however, paleontologist Samuel Turvey claimed to have invoked George Lucas’ beloved nerf herder to win a dare put forth by his friends. College Humor lampoons the connection here.

5. Geragnostus waldorfstatleri

Han solo wasn’t the only trilobite to get a humorous name from Turvey. Feeling that the animal’s head resembled The Muppet Show’s Statler and Waldorf, Turvey officially dubbed it after the beloved hecklers.

6. Gojirasaurus quayi

Wikimedia Commons

“Gojira” is the original Japanese name for “Godzilla,” a name that’s rather appropriate for this 220-million-year-old predator which, at a length of nearly 18 feet, is the earliest-known large carnivorous dinosaur.

7. Gollum suluensis

IMPH Science

This New Zealand shark is named for Gollum of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings. It is not, however, also named for George Takei’s Hikaru Sulu of the original Star Trek series, but rather a sea in the Philippines.

8. Spongiforma squarepantsii

National Geographic

You’d think that an animal named for Nickelodeon’s ever-popular Spongebob Squarepants would be an actual sponge. But Spongiforma squarepantsii is actually a type of mushroom discovered in 2010.

9. Sauroniops pachytholus

Because only the upper skull of this carnivorous dinosaur—including a single eye socket—was found, it was named after yet another Lord of the Rings villain: the fiery eye of Sauron.

10. Otocinclus batmani

The flared tail of this South American fish reminded ichthyologist Pablo Lehmann of Gotham City’s masked vigilante.

11. Tetragnatha quasimodo

A Hawaiian spider named for the title character of Victor Hugo’s classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1992.

HONORABLE MENTION: Strigiphilus garylarsoni

The Far Side creator Gary Larson certainly isn’t a figment of somebody’s imagination, but the parasitic louse named in his honor is worthy of a brief aside. A few years after learning of the then-new species of blood-sucking insect, Larson wrote “I considered this an extreme honor … Besides, I knew that nobody was going to write and ask to name a new species of swan after me.”

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Australian Charity Releases Album of Cat-Themed Ballads to Promote Feline Welfare
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An Australian animal charity is helping save the nation’s kitties one torch song at a time, releasing a feline-focused musical album that educates pet owners about how to properly care for their cats.

Around 35,000 cats end up in pounds, shelters, and rescue programs every year in the Australian state of New South Wales, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Microchipping and fixing cats, along with keeping closer tabs on them, could help reduce this number. To get this message out, the RSPCA’s New South Wales chapter created Cat Ballads: Music To Improve The Lives Of Cats.

The five-track recording is campy and fur-filled, with titles like "Desex Me Before I Do Something Crazy" and "Meow Meow." But songs like “I Need You” might tug the heartstrings of ailurophiles with lyrics like “I guess that’s goodbye then/but you’ve done this before/the window's wide open/and so’s the back door/you might think I’m independent/but you’d be wrong.” There's also a special version of the song that's specifically designed for cats’ ears, featuring purring, bird tweets, and other feline-friendly noises.

Together, the tunes remind us how vulnerable our kitties really are, and provide a timely reminder for cat owners to be responsible parents to their furry friends.

“The Cat Ballads campaign coincides with kitten season, which is when our shelters receive a significantly higher number of unwanted kittens as the seasons change,” Dr. Jade Norris, a veterinary scientist with the RSPCA, tells Mental Floss. “Desexing cats is a critical strategy to reduce unwanted kittens.”

Listen to a song from Cat Ballads below, and visit the project’s website for the full rundown.

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Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
Scientists Discover 'Octlantis,' a Bustling Octopus City
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Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Octopuses are insanely talented: They’ve been observed building forts, playing games, and even walking on dry land. But one area where the cephalopods come up short is in the social department. At least that’s what marine biologists used to believe. Now a newly discovered underwater community, dubbed Octlantis, is prompting scientists to call their characterization of octopuses as loners into question.

As Quartz reports, the so-called octopus city is located in Jervis Bay off Australia’s east coast. The patch of seafloor is populated by as many as 15 gloomy octopuses, a.k.a. common Sydney octopuses (octopus tetricus). Previous observations of the creatures led scientists to think they were strictly solitary, not counting their yearly mating rituals. But in Octlantis, octopuses communicate by changing colors, evict each other from dens, and live side by side. In addition to interacting with their neighbors, the gloomy octopuses have helped build the infrastructure of the city itself. On top of the rock formation they call home, they’ve stored mounds of clam and scallop shells and shaped them into shelters.

There is one other known gloomy octopus community similar to this one, and it may help scientists understand how and why they form. The original site, called Octopolis, was discovered in the same bay in 2009. Unlike Octlantis, Octopolis was centered around a manmade object that had sunk to the seabed and provided dens for up to 16 octopuses at a time. The researchers studying it had assumed it was a freak occurrence. But this new city, built around a natural habitat, shows that gloomy octopuses in the area may be evolving to be more social.

If that's the case, it's unclear why such octo-cities are so uncommon. "Relative to the more typical solitary life, the costs and benefits of living in aggregations and investing in interactions remain to be documented," the researchers who discovered the group wrote in a paper published in Marine and Freshwater Behavior and Physiology [PDF].

It’s also possible that for the first time in history humans have the resources to see octopus villages that perhaps have always been bustling beneath the sea surface.

[h/t Quartz]


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