Robert L. Curry
Robert L. Curry

11 Organisms Scientifically Named After Fictional Characters

Robert L. Curry
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.”

Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?

Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.


More from mental floss studios