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There Are So Many Species Named After David Attenborough

And this butterfly makes one more.

by Emiko Jozuka
Dec 1 2015, 5:00pm

The latest species to be named after Attenborough. Image: Andrew Neild, Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

Few can boast of having a plant, fossil, or a pygmy locust named after them. But Sir David Attenborough—Britain's well-loved wildlife documentary presenter—has been taxonomically honoured at least nine times already.

In the latest case, Attenborough's legacy has been commemorated in the form of a butterfly.

In a study published Tuesday in the journal ZooKeys, researchers describe naming a rare species of Amazonian butterfly the Euptychia attenboroughi. It's a species known only from lowland tropical forests of the upper Amazon basin in Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil, and is the first butterfly to be named after Attenborough.

"It's very rare. The first specimen was collected in 1943, then in 1993, then in 1994. We've only got five specimens in total from all the history of collecting," said Andrew Neild, a scientific associate at London's Natural History Museum, over the phone. "The orange flash that you can see on it is quite unusual, and the large eye-spots make it look really a rather attractive butterfly in itself."

"It astonished me that for a man who is so passionate about butterflies, nobody has named a butterfly after him."

Neild has been interested in butterflies since he was 11 years old. He'd earmarked this butterfly as one that would be named after David Attenborough since recognizing it as a new species in 1994.

"David is inspirational," said Neild. "It astonished me that for a man who is so passionate about butterflies, nobody has named a butterfly after him. It was exciting to find out that I hadn't missed the boat."

Over the years, Attenborough's TV legacy and prowess at bringing the natural world to the public has inspired many a researcher to name new-found species after him. Highlights include Ctenocheloides attenboroughi, a ghost shrimp discovered in Madagascar, Electrotettix attenboroughi, a pygmy locust found pickled in 20-million-year-old amber, and Attenborosaurus conybeare, an aquatic carnivore that lived during the Jurassic period.

There's also Nepenthes attenboroughii, a pitcher plant found in the Philippines, Blakea attenboroughii, a species of tree endemic to Ecuador, Zaglossus attenboroughi, a long-beaked echidna found in New Guinea, the Materpiscis attenboroughi, a placoderm fish fossil found in North Western Australia, and Trigonopterus attenboroughii, a beetle-like creature from Indonesia.

While Attenborough has had a fair few species named after him, he's not alone in receiving such honors. Other quirky names for specimens include Caloplaca obamae, an orange-colored lichen named after President Barack Obama, the Scaptia beyonceae, a horse fly named after pop songstress Beyonce, and the Eristalis gatesi, a flower fly named after tech entrepreneur Bill Gates.