This Spider Isn’t From Mars—So Why Is It Named for David Bowie?

A Beyoncé fly, a Trump moth, and more: learn why some species are named for famous figures.

Of the roughly 18,000 new species discovered each year, a few have a certain star quality. In 2008, when an orange-haired, ornately patterned spider was found in Malaysia, it was named Heteropoda davidbowie. In 2010 a whale fossil made a splash when it was dubbed Leviathan melvillei. There’s a rare Australian horsefly that goes by Scaptia beyonceae and a tree frog from Ecuador called Hyloscirtus princecharlesi.

Scientists have been formally naming species since the middle of the 18th century, when Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus paved the taxonomic way. His binomial nomenclature system—still in use—identifies each distinct organism using a two-part name: its genus, or group, name, followed by its specific, or species, name. Think Homo sapiens.

Today animal species’ names follow guidelines set by a governing body called the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. The person who finds a new species is free to name it, and some take inspiration from famous figures.

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