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There’s always a bigger fish: Animals named after Star Wars creatures and characters

Published: 13th December, 2017 at 00:00
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The Star Wars universe is not just inspiration for young padwans, it also provides rich pickings for biologists needing names for new species.

As Qui-Gon Jinn discovered in The Phantom Menace as he left the Gungan City, Star Wars is filled with wonderful and exotic creatures - but we’re always discovering unusual animals in our own animal kingdom. There are some particularly geeky biologists out there who jump at the opportunity to classify a new species after their favourite Star Wars characters. Here are some of our favourites:


Peckoltia greedoi

Image by Jonathan W. Armbruster (CC BY 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Image by Jonathan W. Armbruster (CC BY 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Sharing a “remarkable resemblance” (those are the words in the study, not ours) to Greedo from Star Wars: A New Hope, the Peckoltia greedoi is an armoured catfish that lives in the rio Gurupi drainage of Brazil. Having fins instead of fingers would suggest there would be no argument as to who shot first.


Skywalker hoolock gibbon (Hoolock tianxing)

Scientists discover new primate species! (YouTube/ZSL - Zoological Society of London)

Some might consider being one with the Force a somewhat spiritual experience, and the name tianxing given to the 200 or so known specimens translates to heaven’s movement, or skywalker. So what more apt a name chosen by a bunch of Star Wars fans for a newly-described primate known for swinging through trees. Needless to say the main man himselfwas delighted…


Hamamas tube-nosed fruit bat (Nyctimene wrightae)

University of York

University of York“When 250 years old you are, look as good, you will not” is probably what this critter was saying when it was affectionately known as the Yoda bat. Although the nickname given to it because of its similarities to the Jedi Master is relatively recent, it had gone without a classification since 1769 until a 2017 study finally gave it a name - the hamamas tube-nosed fruit bat (Nyctimene wrightae). Hamamas means ‘happy’ in the local Papua New Guinea language - apt, as the bat’s broad, round jaw makes it look like it’s constantly smiling.


Aptostichus sarlacc

Image by Jason Bond, Auburn University (CC BY 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Image by Jason Bond, Auburn University (CC BY 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

The Aptostichus genus of trapdoor spiders reads like a who’s-who of celebrity spiders, with the likes of Angelina Jolie, Barack Obama and Bono all having species named after them. Given the company, we’re not sure how they how they would feel about being lumped in with the Aptostichus sarlacc, named after Tatooine’s bounty hunter-gobbling Sarlacc monster from Return of the Jedi.


Trigonopterus chewbacca

Image by Dr Alexander Riedel
Image by Dr Alexander Riedel

Why would a small, hard beetle from Papua New Guinea be named after the huge, loveable (but not to be messed-with) fuzzball from Star Wars? According to the 2016 study “this species has dense scales on the head and the legs, which reminds the authors of Chewbacca’s dense fur”.

Yep, me neither…


Wockia chewbacca

Image by David Adamski, Karina Boege, Jean-Francois Landry, Jae-Cheon Sohn (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons
Image by David Adamski, Karina Boege, Jean-Francois Landry, Jae-Cheon Sohn (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

Sticking with Chewie, at least like its namesake the W. chewbacca is hairy - but that’s where the resemblance ends. Instead of flying through the galaxy at the helm of the Millennium Falcon, this tiny moth with a wingspan little over 10mm flutters around the dry forests of Mexico.


Xenokeryx amidalae

Illustration by Israel M. Sánchez
Illustration by Israel M. Sánchez

Padmé Amidala is easily one of the most stylish characters to emerge from the Star Wars universe, so one could imagine her joy at having a 16-million-year-old extinct ruminant in the same class as the giraffe after her. For why? we hear you ask. Well according to the 2015 paper it’s because of the “striking resemblance that the occipital appendage of Xenokeryx bears to one of the hairstyles that the aforementioned character shows in The Phantom Menace feature film”. We guess it was either her or Bjork then.


Tetramorium jedi

Image by Shannon Hartman (© / CC-BY-SA-3.0)
Image by Shannon Hartman (© / CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith proved that for the Jedi, strength doesn’t necessarily come in numbers. Ants though, that’s a completely different story (there are lots of them). These Madagascan ants must have more than just numbers though, they were named after “the fictional, noble, and wise guardians of peace from the “Star Wars” universe created by George Lucas”.


Yoda purpurata

Image by David Shale
Image by David Shale

We reckon Yoda is a sort of beige-green colour, which why we’re baffled as to why this purple acorn worm found in the North Atlantic Ocean was named after the little Jedi. As far as worms go it’s not even that small, at 12-19cm, so maybe the fact it is the only known member of the acorn worm family to be hermaphroditic that provided the inspiration. Well we don’t know anything about Yoda’s love life do we…!?


Midichloria mitochondrii

University of Sydney
University of Sydney

One of the more controversial things that George Lucas introduced to the second trilogy of Star Wars movies was the idea of Midi-chlorians – microscopic living organisms that live in the body that in sufficient volumes allow their host to work as one with the Force. Some would say that this takes the spiritual mysticism away from the whole concept of the all-powerful energy that is pivotal to the films and makes it sound more like having a virus – others go ahead and name “an intracellular bacterium with the unique ability to enter mitochondria…in the European vector of Lyme disease, the hard tick Ixodes ricinus” after them. No prizes for guessing where these biologists sit on the Midi-chlorian debate.


Han Solo

mage by Apokryltaros (Own work) (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons
mage by Apokryltaros (Own work) (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons

There is a genus of extinct trilobite called Han, so it was only a matter of time before someone assigned the species Solo to it. That person was Samuel Turvey, who in his 2004 paper said it warranted the name Solo as the fossil is the youngest and the last surviving member of that family. It had nothing to do with friends daring him to name it after the Star Wars hero…


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Alexander McNamaraOnline Editor, BBC Science Focus

Alexander is the former Online Editor at BBC Science Focus.


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