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Ten species named after famous people

  • Pirate of the Cambrian
    Discovered a huge, scissor-clawed prehistoric arthropod? There’s only one thing for it – name it after Edward Scissorhands actor Johnny Depp. (Copyright: Imperial College/Getty)
  • Cleese in the trees
    Noted lemur fancier John Cleese has been honoured with a species named after him, discovered by Swiss scientist Dr Urs Thalmann in 2005. (Copyright: Getty/Dr Urs Thalmann)
  • Mothers of spinvention
    Scientists, it would appear, are big fans of psychedelic jazz-rock noodler Frank Zappa; animals named after him include this droopy-jawed spider. (Copyright: Jan Bosselaers/Getty)
  • Infamous insect
    When German scientist Oscar Scheibel found a new species of blind Yugolavian cave beetle in 1936 he chose to name it after dictator Adolf Hitler. (Copyright: Getty/Michael Munich)
  • Natural mys-tick
    Bob Marley is a hero in Jamaica, and the scientific world has also paid tribute, naming a variety of bloodsucking parasite after the reggae star. (Copyright: Getty/Ann Marie Coile)
  • Giant of literature
    Herman Melville penned the classic white whale novel Moby Dick; a species of extinct whale, Livyatan melvillei, was named after him in 2010. (Copyright: Getty/Apokryltaros)
  • Rock fossils
    No jokes about rock dinosaurs – species of extinct trilobite have been named after Sex Pistol John Lydon (top left) and members of The Ramones (bottom left). (Copyright: Getty/SPL)
  • Spider woman
    Angelina Jolie has won many honours in her film career, and can also add this species of trapdoor spider - Aptostichus angelinajolieae - to the list. (Copyright: Getty/J E Bond)
  • Microsoft bug
    Computing pioneer Bill Gates has had a species of Costa Rican flower fly named after him – as has Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. (Copyright: Getty/Wikimedia Commons)
  • Fitting tribute
    David Attenborough is the most famous living naturalist, and has several species named after him – such as this carnivorous pitcher plant. (Copyright: Getty/Dr Alistair Robinson)
Naming new species after celebrities is a very good way to draw attention to your findings. Here’s some of the most weird and wonderful tributes. (Spiderphobes, beware - eight-legged beasts are included)

Every year, somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000 new species of animal are discovered, so how do scientists come up with original names for them? Not surprisingly, some seek inspiration in the world of popular culture, as witnessed recently when a scientist discovered a fossil of an extinct creature with scissor-like claws, and named it Kooteninchela deppi in honour of – you guessed it – Edward Scissorhands star Johnny Depp.

It’s not simply a matter of randomly attaching any name to a new species you think you may have discovered in the field or a museum. Your findings have to be accepted for publication in a scientific journal for you to give it a name – but once that’s done it lasts forever.

Naming species after celebrities is a very good way to draw attention to your finding. Some are a tribute, like the small crustacean parasite named after reggae legend Bob Marley. Some are clever, as in the mite Funkotriplogynium iagobadius named in honour of James Brown (iago meaning James, and badius meaning Brown). Some are a blatant ploy to meet heroes, as in the scientist who named a species of jellyfish after Frank Zappa (which worked).

Here, we list some of the weird and wonderful species named after famous... and infamous people.

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