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“Legs for Days”: A Fly Species Has Been Named After Drag Queen RuPaul

Like RuPaul, the fly has “legs for days” and “wears a fierce metallic rainbow get-up,” the entomologist behind the name said.
September 16, 2021, 9:55am
Australian scientists name soldier fly species after drag queen RuPaul Charles insects science
The RuPaul fly, or Opaluma rupaul was named after the famous drag queen RuPaul. Collage: VICE / Images: (L) Andrew Lipovsky / Getty Images (R) Courtesy of Bryan Lessard

Researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency, have Ru-vealed that a soldier fly with bright iridescent colors and distinctive thorns has been named after the world-famous drag queen RuPaul.

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Opaluma rupaul is part of a new genus called Opaluma, a name which comes from the Latin words for opal and thorn. The flies in this group have bodies that resemble the iridescent mineraloid and have distinctive thorns on the underside of their abdomens, the CSIRO said on its website.

The man behind the fly’s fierce name is entomologist Bryan Lessard, who previously named another fly, Plinthina beyonceae, after Beyoncé.

“I found out that naming a species after a pop icon was a great way of making the science of taxonomy—naming species—more accessible to non-scientists. The more people who care about flies and insects, the better, because they are the essential workers of our ecosystem and often get neglected,” Lessard told VICE.

RuPaul is the host and one of the executive producers of the Emmy Award-winning reality television show RuPaul’s Drag Race, where contestants compete to become “America’s next drag superstar.” The show has since been adapted in multiple countries such as Canada, Spain, and Australia. 

Lessard said he was watching a lot of Drag Race at the same time he was studying the fly species.

“The fly has legs for days, wears a fierce metallic rainbow get-up, and even tucks—it has a distinct thorn tucked under its abdomen,” he said, referencing a common practice among drag queens called “tucking.” 

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“You could say that I saw the Ru-semblance,” Lessard added.

Another reason Lessard named the species after RuPaul was to increase representation of the LGBTQ community in science and technology. 

“When I started in this very traditional field of entomology, I didn’t see many gay scientists out there and felt a little isolated,” he said. “These days, I feel comfortable bringing my whole self to work and spending more energy getting science done, and I think Drag Race has played a role in making [LGBTQ] culture more mainstream.”

Lessard said that he’s sure Opaluma rupaul won’t be the last species to be named after a drag queen.

“Only a quarter of life on Earth has been scientifically named and species are being named every day,” he said. 

Scientists at the CSIRO have named other species after pop culture icons as well. They named three hard to find beetles Binburrum articuno, Binburrum zapdos, and Binburrum moltres, after three hard-to-find Pokémon: Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres. 

“Naming a species is the first step to protecting them,” Lessard said. “Otherwise they might silently sashay away into extinction.”

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