Sunday, September 14, 2014

Found a new creature? Name it after a rock star...

Those of you who follow along here know that I write a lot about music here, and a pretty fair amount about science.
Cruising the Internet today, I stumbled across a story that touches on both topics.

It seems that the fossils of a previously unknown species have been found at a remote site in Egypt. An article at Science Daily says that the animal was about the size of a small deer. The fossils found included fragments of jawbones that had a series of small holes on each side of its jaws that held nerves providing feeling to its chin and lower lip. The large number of nerves probably involved led to the conclusion that the animal had a sensitive snout and mobile lower lip that were likely used to forage along moist river banks. The area where the fossils were found is now desert, but evidence suggests that at the time the animal lived there, 19 million years ago or so, it was a lush tropical delta.

Because the animal looks to have had large, mobile lips, the discoverers of the fossils named the new species Jaggermeryx naida, which means "Jagger's water nymph", after Rolling Stones vocalist Mick Jagger. Needless to say, Ellen Miller and Gregg Gunnell, co-authors of the report and who named the species, are big Rolling Stones fans.

However, I have not been able to find out what Jagger thinks about having an animal that was described as probably looking like "a cross between a slender hippo and a long-legged pig" that lived in a swamp named after him.

Being the curious person that I am, I started wondering if there were any other animal species, living or extinct, named after musical celebrities. It didn't take much Googling to find that the answer to this question is, "Well, of course," according to at article at Music Times It turns out that there is a large iguana-like creature named Barbaturex morrisoni, after Jim Morrison who was after all the self-proclaimed Lizard King. By "large", I mean that B. morrisoni was about six feet long and around 60 pounds. I suspect that Morrison would have loved that.

U2 singer Bono has a spider named after him. Aptostichus bonoi. A. bonoi lives only in one part of Joshua Tree National Park, in Southern California, and so presumably the spider was named after the singer in honor of the fact that U2's best-known album was called "The Joshua Tree". Another species of spider from the same genus, this one living in several counties in Northern California, was named Aptostichus barackobamai in honor of US President Barack Obama, incidentally.

Bono isn't the only musician who has a spider named after him. In fact, Lou Reed has an entire genus of spiders named after him, Loureedia, although it must be noted that this genus is made up of only one known species, Loureedia annulipes. It is a velvet spider that lives underground, so the naming makes sense. David Bowie also has a spider, Heteropoda davidbowie, named after him. Bowie's spider namesake has been described as "large, yellow, and hairy." Singer and songwriter Neil Young is another musician who has a spider, Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi, which is found mostly in Alabama, named after him.

A species of wood roach, a type of cockroach, is named Cryptocercus garciai after Grateful Dead icon Jerry Garcia. Think about it.

The thing is, the recent fossil named after Mick Jagger isn't the only fossil that was named in his honor. There is a trilobite called Aegrotocatellus jaggeri, after him. At the same time the other half of the Glimmer Twins, Keith Richards, also had a trilobite named in his honor, Perirehadulus richardsi. Yet another trilobite was named for the Rolling Stones as a group, Aegrotocatellus nankerpheigorum, which only makes sense if you know that Nanker Phelge was the pseudonym used for several songs that were written by the entire band between 1963 and 1965. Probably the best known of these songs is "Play With Fire", from early 1965. Jagger also has a snail named after him.

An isopod, Cirolana mercuryi, found on coral reefs offshore from Zanzibar, was named after Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury, who was born in Zanzibar (which is now Tanzania). Isopods are crustaceans that can live in the sea, in fresh water, or on land. Bob Marley also has a crustacean, Gnathia marleyi, named after him.

Among others in the music world who have living organisms named after them is Frank Zappa, who has at least a snail, a jellyfish, and a bacterium named after him. The man who named the jelly fish after Zappa admitted that he did it in hopes that he would be able to meet the musician.

Henry Rollins has a jellyfish named after him, while Carole King and James Taylor both have stoneflies named after them. Both Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr all have trilobites named after them. There are a lot of species of trilobites. Each one of The Ramones also has a trilobite named after him.
Sting has a Columbian tree frog, Hyla stingi, named after him. Masiakasaurus knopfleri, a small theropod dinosaur (although small is a relative thing; M. knopfleri was around 5.9 to 6.6 feet in length), in named after Dire Straits sing, songwriter, and guitarist Mark Knopfler.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of musical celebrities who have had organisms named after them. So far as I could tell from my research, only one person who named a species after a musician admitted that they did so to meet the musician. The thing I'm left wondering is, how many others chose to name a plant or an animal for a musician also really did it so they could meet that musician. I'd be willing to bet that the number is more than one.

I wish I could attach some music for each of the artists included in this post, but that would make it way, way too long to be manageable. But you get the idea. There are music fans everywhere, even in the world of science, and the people who get to name newly discovered species have a habit of naming their discoveries after the singers and musicians that they love.

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