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Marine Animals Named for Famous People

Sir Elton’s crustacean joins a whole host of celebrity inspired creatures. Here we take a look at eight marine species and their famous namesakes.

In August, a newly discovered crustacean species was christened in honor of Sir Elton John, elevating the famous musician to the ranks of those celebrities so iconic that they’ve got animals or plants named after them. Sir Elton’s crustacean joins a whole host of celebrity inspired creatures — including a wasp named after Shakira, a pterosaur named after Steven Spielberg, and a spider named after Angelina Jolie. Here we’ll look at eight marine animals named for famous people.

Elton John

Species: Crustacean (Leucothoe eltoni)

This newly discovered crustacean is believed to be native to the coral reefs of Raja Ampat, Indonesia, although it also exists as an invasive species in the Hawaiian Islands. It’s thought that the amphipod was transported to Hawaii when a U.S. Navy dry dock was moved from Subic Bay in the Philippines to Pearl Harbor in 1992. The crustacean is named in honor of Sir Elton John, as it has a large, shoe-like appendage that reminded the naming scientist of the oversize boots Sir Elton wore in the movie Tommy.

Freddie Mercury

Species: Crustacean (Cirolana mercuryi)

This tiny isopod was discovered in the waters off Bawe Island near Zanzibar in Tanzania, and subsequently named after Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen and “arguably Zanzibar’s most famous popular musician and singer.” Although Mercury went on to front one of the most legendary bands in British history, he was born and raised in Stone Town on Zanzibar, where his father worked as a cashier at the British Colonial Office.

Frank Zappa

Species: Jellyfish (Phialella zappai)

When Italian scientist Ferdinando Boero discovered a new species of jellyfish while working for the Bodega Marine Laboratory of the University of California, he decided to name it after Frank Zappa, his favorite musician. Hoping to orchestrate a meeting with his hero, he wrote to tell Zappa of his new namesake. Zappa replied saying that “there is nothing I would like better than having a jellyfish with my name,” and over time the two became good friends.

Thomas Jefferson

Species: Scallop (Chesapecten jeffersonius)

Described by a scientist at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1824, Chesapecten jeffersonius refers to the fossilized form of an extinct scallop. Named after the third president of the United States and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, this scallop is now the state fossil of Virginia. It lived on Virginia’s coastal plains between 4 and 8 million years ago, and in 1687 became the first North American fossil illustrated in scientific literature.

David Attenborough

Species: Fish (Materpiscis attenboroughi)

In 2005, a scientific expedition to the Gogo Formation (an amazingly preserved Devonian reef system in Western Australia) discovered the only known specimen of this prehistoric fish species. The fish was found with an unborn embryo inside, and as such is the oldest example of a vertebrate giving birth to live young. It is named in honor of iconic broadcaster and announcer David Attenborough, who recognized the importance of the Gogo Formation in his 1979 series Life on Earth.

Barack Obama

Species: Fish (Etheostoma obama)

Named in 2012, the spangled darter is endemic to the Duck and Buffalo Rivers in Tennessee. While studying color variations in another type of darter, scientists Steve Layman and Rick Mayden discovered five new species, which they decided to name after conservation-minded U.S. politicians. Along with Bill Clinton, Theodore Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, the scientists chose Obama for his work “particularly in the areas of clean energy and environmental protection.”

Bob Marley

Species: Crustacean (Gnathia marleyi)

When marine biologist Paul Sikkel discovered this tiny parasitic crustacean in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2002, he decided to name it after his favorite reggae musician, because — like Marley — the new species was “uniquely Caribbean.” However, unlike Marley, this strange creature spends the first part of its life feeding on the blood and mucus of its host fish. Later, it stops feeding, and spends the rest of its life trying to reproduce until it eventually dies of starvation.

Image by Seascapeza

Nelson Mandela

Species: Nudibranch (Mandelia mirocornata)

Named for the legendary former President of South Africa, this dorid nudibranch is believed to be endemic to Mandela’s home country. So far, it has been found exclusively in the waters that stretch from the Atlantic side of the Cape Peninsula to Port Elizabeth on the country’s east coast. Within this nudibranch’s range lies Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years for his role in the fight against South Africa’s apartheid regime.