David Adamski, Karina Boege, Jean-Francois Landry, Jae-Cheon Sohn via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
David Adamski, Karina Boege, Jean-Francois Landry, Jae-Cheon Sohn via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

17 Species Named After Star Wars Characters

David Adamski, Karina Boege, Jean-Francois Landry, Jae-Cheon Sohn via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
David Adamski, Karina Boege, Jean-Francois Landry, Jae-Cheon Sohn via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

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.


Israel M. Sánchez via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

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.   


Jason Bond, Auburn University via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

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.   


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 W. Armbruster via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

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." 


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.


Alexander Riedel via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

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."


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.  


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.


Apokryltaros via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

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. 

15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers

People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.


There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)


It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.


Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.


American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.


The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.


This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.


The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.


These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.


A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.


The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.


This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.


Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.


Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.


You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.


Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

Watch an Antarctic Minke Whale Feed in a First-of-Its-Kind Video

New research from the World Wildlife Fund is giving us a rare glimpse into the world of the mysterious minke whale. The WWF worked with Australian Antarctic researchers to tag minke whales with cameras for the first time, watching where and how the animals feed.

The camera attaches to the whale's body with suction cups. In the case of the video below, the camera accidentally slid down the side of the minke whale's body, providing an unexpected look at the way its throat moves as it feeds.

Minke whales are one of the smallest baleen whales, but they're still pretty substantial animals, growing 30 to 35 feet long and weighing up to 20,000 pounds. Unlike other baleen whales, though, they're small enough to maneuver in tight spaces like within sea ice, a helpful adaptation for living in Antarctic waters. They feed by lunging through the sea, gulping huge amounts of water along with krill and small fish, and then filtering the mix through their baleen.

The WWF video shows just how quickly the minke can process this treat-laden water. The whale could lunge, process, and lunge again every 10 seconds. "He was like a Pac-Man continuously feeding," Ari Friedlaender, the lead scientist on the project, described in a press statement.

The video research, conducted under the International Whaling Commission's Southern Ocean Research Partnership, is part of WWF's efforts to protect critical feeding areas for whales in the region.

If that's not enough whale for you, you can also watch the full 13-minute research video below:


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