By Susan Sheng
If you think back to biology class when you had to learn about the official genus and species nomenclature to describe all living organisms, a lot of the names were Latin words usually describing where the organisms was originally found, or some physical characteristic of it. In fact, there is a (very long) set of rules laid out in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature governing how newly discovered species are named. Some mischievous scientists however have snuck in pop culture references when naming their discoveries, with Star Wars characters being one major influence.
Aptostichus sarlacc (Bond, 2012)
n 2012, Jason Bond, a professor at Auburn University, discovered 33 new species of trapdoor spiders, all of which belonged to the Aptostichus genus. Aptostichus sarlacc was named for the Sarlacc creature in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and was found in the Mojave Desert in California. Much like the Sarlacc which lived in the desert planet Tatooine, trapdoor spiders live in underground burrows which are often covered by “trapdoors” made of soil, sand and plant material.
This genus also has many other “famous” members in its species, including Aptostichus angelinajolieae and Aptostichus barackobamai.
Darthvaderum (Hunt, 1996)
While studying mites from eastern Australia, Glenn Hunt reported, “When I saw the SEM of the gnathosoma I immediately thought of Darth Vader, evil antihero of Star Wars.” Take a look if you can at Figures 12-14 in his report in the Records of the Australian Museum; the resemblance is certainly there! (Warning, it’s a big document!)
Han Solo (Turvey, 2005)
Who says scientists don’t have a sense of humor? Trilobites are hard-shelled creatures which lived in the deep sea during the Paleozoic Era over 520 million years ago, and their fossils today can be found all over the world. In 2005, Samuel Turvey described the discovery and classification of three new species of agnostid trilobites found in southern China, one of which was named Han solo. In his paper in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Turvey states that the name pays tribute to the place where the fossils were found (“Han,” after the Han Chinese) and the fact that this particular species “appears to represent the last surviving member of the Diplagnostidae” (hence, “solo”). Unofficially however, Turvey was reportedly dared by his friends to name the creature after a Star Wars character (As an aside, in the same report Turvey named another trilobite, Geragnostus waldorfstatleri, after two characters from “The Muppet Show.”)
Tetramorium jedi (Garcia and Fisher, 2012)
The Tetramorium jedi is an ant found on the island of Madagascar and was first described by Garcia and Fisher in 2012 Although Garcia and Fisher don’t describe why they were inspired to name this ant after the Jedis from Star Wars, I think it could have something to do with the spike on its back that could resemble a light saber…
Yoda purpurata (Priede et al., 2012)
Named for the resemblance between its large lateral lips and Yoda’s ears, the Yoda purpurata was one of three new species of acorn worms reported by a team of researchers from the University of Aberdeen in 2012. The worm was found along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Iceland and the Azores. Acorn worms are particularly interesting to evolutionary biologists as some of its anatomical features are similar to those found in vertebrates, leading to debate over whether these worms are an evolutionary link between invertebrates and vertebrates.
Albunione yoda (Markham and Boyko, 2003)
Yoda’s ears were the inspiration for the naming of this isopod parasite, found on sand crabs on the western coast of Taiwan. The female members of this species have long lateral extensions on their heads, which resemble Yoda’s long droopy ears.
Polemistus chewbacca, P. vaderi, P. yoda (Menke and Vincent, 1983)
Arnold Menke and David Vincent paid tribute to their favorite Star Wars characters when naming three new wasp species discovered in 1983. These wasps are found in the southwestern United States and Central America.
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