When a Swedish Lutheran pastor, Nils Ingemarsson Linnaeus, named his son Carl in 1707, he had no idea he was naming the future father of taxonomy.
Taxonomy is the science of naming, describing and classifying organisms. You may remember “King Philip Came Over For Good Soup” from third grade: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species. It helps keep everything organized, so everyone knows exactly which thing you’re talking about.
Nils wanted his son to be a pastor, too, but fortunately for the science world, Carl Linnaeus disappointed his parents by showing neither aptitude nor desire for the priesthood and instead ended up studying medicine and botany. Between his education and love of plants, he ended up developing his classification scheme of living things, the Systema Naturae.
Critters named for RuPaul, center, Beyonce (top right) Angelina Jolie (bottom right) Leonardo DiCaprio (beetle) and Barack Obama (top left.) Not to scale.
Center: CSIRO Australia. Clockwise from top left: Jason E. Bond/Wikipedia, Bryan D. Lessard-CSIRO/Wikipedia, Jason E. Bond/Wikipedia, Hendrik Freitag, Clister V. Pangantihon and Iva Njunjic/Wikipedia.
Naming a species is a big deal, and it comes with challenges, responsibilities and rules. There are about 8.6 million species in the world and we’ve only named 1.2 million of them. According to ABC Australia, names are usually in Latin, they must be unique, and it’s tacky to name a species after yourself.
Many of these scientists named these bug species after celebrities to honor their work for the environment, some of them were inspired by them, and others did it in a bit of fun.
Here are 30 celebrities with bugs — well, ok, invertebrates –named after them.
The spider is named after Jolie in recognition of her work with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
Leech: Chtonobdella tanae
The leech was named for author Amy Tan in recognition of her support of the American Museum of Natural History. One of her novels, “Saving Fish From Drowning,” mentions leeches three times. Tan reportedly said she was “thrilled to be immortalized” with the naming.
Ant: Zasphinctus obamai
The ant was thus named “to acknowledge his important efforts undertaken for the conservation of fragile natural habitats around the globe.” The ant is generally found close to the hometown of Obama’s paternal family in western Kenya.
Obama also lends his name to two spiders, a bee, a beetle, two fish, a bird, a lichen, a lizard and other critters.
Fly: Scaptia beyonceae
The horse fly was named after the singer and actress because of its “striking golden behind.”
Fly: Eristalis gatesi
The fly is named for Gates in recognition of his contributions to the PC revolution and to the science of dipterology (the study of flies.)
Spider: Aptostichus bonoi
The species occurs in California’s Joshua Tree National Park and was named in recognition of U2’s 1987 album “The Joshua Tree.”
Spider: Ummidia brandicarlileae
The American singer and songwriter founded the annual Girls Just Wanna Weekend Festival to counter the lack of female representation at mainstream music festivals. The festival takes place in a part of Mexico where the spider is usually found.
Beetle: Darwinilus sedarisi
The scientist who named the beetle did so “as an appreciation for his fascination with the natural world. I spent many hours listening to Mr Sedaris’ audiobooks while preparing the specimens and the figures for this and other manuscripts.”
Mayfly: Caenis gretathunbergae
For her global climate activism, Greta Thunberg, now 20 years old, is so far honored for no less than seven creatures: alongside the mayfly are a beetle, a frog, three spiders and a snail. At the age of 15, Thunberg began her now-globally recognized activism by inspiring students around the world to take part in school strikes on behalf of the climate.
Spider: Tasmanicosa hughjackmani
This wolf spider is named for the Australian actor and philanthropist who played Wolverine in the “X-Men” film series. The spider is endemic to Australia, and the common name “wolverine wolf spider” was proposed by its discoverers.
Wasp: Idris elba
Idris is a genus of parasitic wasps. Regarding the name, the scientist who named the wasp, Elijah J. Talamas, told Smithsonian, “It was too funny not to do it.”
Beetle: Ptomaphaginus isabellarossellini
Beetle: Sonoma rossellinae
Two beetles are named for the actress and biologist Isabella Rossellini related to her short films and stage performances on animal reproduction. Rossellini wrote and starred in “Green Porno,” a series of short films on animal sexual behavior.
Wasp: Acrotaphus jackiechani
One of the scientists naming the wasp was a fan of the actor and director.
There’s also a lizard named after Chan. The lizard’s rapid movements reminded the scientists of the stunts of Jackie Chan.
Mite: Litarachna lopezae
The aquatic mite is found in Puerto Rico’s Mona Passage, a strait that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. Lopez is of Puerto Rican descent.
Beetle: Sonoma stewarti
The beetle found in California’s Butte County was named by the authors for Jon Stewart “a humanitarian, champion of science, and humorist best known for reintroducing skepticism and intelligence to news reporting through a television program called The Daily Show.”
Stewart also has a wasp and trilobyte named after him.
Beetle: Agra katewinsletae
The beetle was found in Costa Rica. “Her [“Titanic”] character did not go down with the ship, but we will not be able to say the same for this elegant canopy species, if all the rain forest is converted to pastures,” the authors said.
Treehopper: Kaikaia gaga
The grad student who named the treehopper said in a press release: “If there is going to be a Lady Gaga bug, it’s going to be a treehopper, because they’ve got these crazy horns, they have this wacky fashion sense about them. They’re unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.”
Also named for Lady Gaga are a fern and an extinct even-toed ungulate (hoofed animal) found in Wyoming.
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Beetle: Grouvellinus leonardodicaprioi
The beetle, along with another beetle, two spiders and a flowering plant are named for the actor recognizing him for his work in raising awareness of environmental issues, climate change and biodiversity loss.
Beetle: Agra liv
Agra liv is a species of carabid beetle found in Costa Rica and Panama. “The existence of this species of elegant beetle is dependent upon the rainforest not undergoing an Armageddon,” the authors wrote. (Tyler starred in the 1998 film “Armageddon.”
Beetle: Discheramocephalus malalae
The Pakistani female education activist became the world’s youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate at age 17, two years after she survived being shot by the Taliban for speaking publicly on behalf of girls’ rights. The beetle and spider are named in recognition of her activism. Note the genus of the spider, Thunberga, is named for Greta Thunberg.
Moth: Cicinnus melgibsoni
Gibson is recognized for his contribution and support to the El Mirador project, an important Mayan archaeological site in Guatamala, where the species was discovered.
Spider: Spintharus michelleobamaae
This comb-footed spider from Cuba is named for former first lady Michelle Obama “who has long fought to defend human rights, fairness, and equality for all, with her characteristic dignity and grace,” the authors wrote.
Beetle: Duvalius djokovici
A beetle found in an underground pit in a mountain in western Serbia is named after Djokovic by a Serbian researcher “due to its speed, strength, flexibility, durability and ability to survive in a difficult environment.”
Fly: Agromyza princei
The fly, discovered shortly after Prince died, is named because of his song “Raspberry Beret.” The larva of the fly was discovered mining a leaf of black raspberry.
Fly: Strongylophthalmyia federeri
The species is named for the tennis champion because of its “distinctive racquet-shaped male palpus.” (That’s part of the fly’s mouth.)
Fly: Opaluma rupaul
A brightly colored, iridescent soldier fly from Australia was named “in honor of the drag superstar RuPaul Charles who is known to wear extravagant outfits that resemble this species.” A trilobyte is also named for RuPaul.
Wasp: Aleiodes shakirae
“Since parasitism by this species causes the host caterpillar to bend and twist its abdomen in various ways, and Shakira is also famous for her belly-dancing, the name seems particularly appropriate,” the authors wrote.
Beetle: Agaporomorphus colberti
The scientist who discovered this diving beetle said he named it after Colbert because “Stephen shamelessly asked the science community to name something cooler than a spider to honor him.” Another beetle, Sonoma colberti, is also named after the comedian.
Millipede: Nannaria swiftae
The authors, fans of Taylor Swift, named this millipede “in recognition of her talent as a songwriter and performer and in appreciation of the enjoyment her music has brought.”
Spider: Filistata maguirei
The actor has starred in four “Spider Man” films. He also lends his name to a crustacean.