All in a species name: ode to the famous

By Wes Judd 9 April 2014
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Many famous people have been honoured with a species named after them.

While many species names hark from descriptions or notable features of the organism there’s also the opportunity for scientists to name a species after a person, though it’s etiquette not to name a species after yourself.

Here are some species names after more notable famous people.


Dick Smith: Litokoala dicksmithi

There have been 18 extinct koala species unearthed in Australia, and for number 18, which was discovered in Riversleigh World Heritage Centre in northwestern Queensland, scientists were inspired to put a unique Aussie spin on it. Dick Smith, founder and patron of Australian Geographic, is now the namesake for one of the most complete koala fossils ever found.

Prince Charles: Hyloscirtus princecharlesi

After His Royal Highness’ noble charity work to protect the rainforest habitat, he was recognised by becoming the namesake of a unique species of Ecuadorian tree frog. While there are unfortunately a severely limited number of the frogs left alive after massive deforestation in the area, two are currently being bred in captivity in hopes to boost the population.

James Cook: Captaincookia

Explorer James Cook was the first British man to lay eyes on New Caledonia, and it seems a little piece of him will remain there. A large, deep red flowering plant in the Rubiacea family was named in his honour. Unfortunately, this endemic plant is critically endangered.

Steve Irwin: Trypanosoma irwini, Crikey steveirwini, and Elseya irwini

It seems casual viewers and accomplished scientists alike respected the late, great Steve Irwin, as there are three unique Australian species that have been named after the famous wildlife expert. There’s the microscopic Trypanosoma irwini, a koala blood parasite; the wonderfully titled Crikey steveirwini, a species of land snail found in northeastern Queensland; and Elseya irwini, better known as Irwin’s turtle, which was actually discovered by Irwin himself in 1997.

Terri Irwin: Leichhardteus terriirwinae

The small spider (7mm) is fast, lean and smart, and named in honour of Terri Irwin. Only one individual of this species has ever been found, and it was located in the rainforest area of Mt Aberdeen in northeast Queensland.

Sir David Attenborough

If the number of species named after you is proportional to your respect in the scientific community, no one is more cherished than British naturalist and television host Sir David Attenborough. He inspired the names of a whopping seven species, ranging from a tiny Western Australian Spider to a bell-shaped plant found in the Philippines, and even two species of dinosaurs.

The species are: Blakea attenboroughii (Ecuadorian Tree); Attenborosaurus (Plesiosaur); Ctenocheloides (Ghost shrimp from Madagascar); Materpiscis (extinct shark-like armored fish); Nepenthes attenboroughii (bell-shaped plant); Prethopalpus attenboroughi (Queensland spider); Zaglossus attenboroughi (long-beaked echidna)

Darth Vader: Agathidium vaderi

Quentin Wheeler, the director of the International Institute for Species Exploration in the United States, is something of a legend when it comes to naming species after celebrities. One of his most celebrated is a slime beetle that he appropriate named after one of the most infamous villains in movie history. Both the beetle and Darth Vader have black, broad shiny heads.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Agra schwarzeneggeri

There are more than 600 species in the Agra genus and it seems more of their names are puns than are not. So when entomologist Terry Erwin discovered a beetle in the Agra genus that had exceptionally large biceps, he knew he had to pay tribute to one of the most famous set of muscles in the world: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Beyonce: Scaptia beyonceae

While American singer Beyoncé has no tie to Australia, scientist Bryan Lessard said he could not help himself when he discovered a horsefly in Queensland that had “unique dense golden hairs on its abdomen.”


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Arthurdactylus

While the Scottish author is best known for creating legendary detective Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World was what inspired scientists to name a genus of pterodactyloid pterosaur in his honour. It was found on a remote plateau in South America’s Amazon Rainforest.


Pink Floyd: Pinkfloydia harveii

While the infamous experimental rock band Pink Floyd has no intrinsic connection with Australia, that didn’t stop biologists from George Washington University in Washington DC from naming a spider found in Western Australia after them.