6 Sept 2022


Is there a celebrity living in your backyard?

What do David Bowie, Greta Thunberg, Neil Gaiman, Beyoncé, and Ru Paul have in common? They’ve all had a plant or animal named after them - and one of them might even be living in your backyard right now.

Discover what threatened wildlife could call your backyard home and how you can help them thrive again.

Consider this: Taxonomists in Australia name an average of 1,000 new species every year. And yet it’s estimated that we still have around 500,000 as-yet-unknown animals, plants, fungi, microbes and other organisms in this country. Your job? Find them.

Whenever a brand new species is discovered in the wild, it’s given a binomial name. That helps identify and catalogue the species, plus it can often tell us a lot about the animal from those few words.

Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) binomial name meaning
Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) binomial name meaning © Jacob Crisp

For instance, in the scientific community, a koala is known as Phascolarctos cinereus. If we break that down, it translates to its genus: Phascolarcto – phaskolos meaning pouched; arktos meaning bear (derived from Greek) and cinereus meaning ashy-grey (derived from Latin).

These binomial names can often tell us where the species was found or share some interesting features about it. This name can be just about anything and can refer to a physical feature, like colour or shape. But sometimes, scientists like to sneak in fun hidden meanings when creating these new names.

Is Beyoncé in your backyard?

A horsefly Scaptia beyonceae named after Beyonce
© Shutterstock / A Ricardo and CC BY 3.0 Bryan D. Lessard

For instance, a horse fly discovered in 1981 living in the Atherton Tablelands was given the name Scaptia beyonceae in 2011. Why? Because the researcher Bryan Lessard who first described the species, thought that the distinctive golden hairs on the fly’s lower abdomen made the fly ‘bootylicious’ – a term made famous by a song of the same name in 2001 by Beyoncé’s former group Destiny’s Child.

What about the Irwins?

Steve Irwin (Australian zookeeper, conservationist, television personality, wildlife expert, and environmentalist) didn’t expect to have Trypanosoma irwini, a microscopic koala blood parasite named after him. Nor did he expect to give his name to the tiny snail discovered in Queensland, the Crikey steveirwini.

Crikey steveirwini is a rare Australian snail. It’s the only species in the genus Crikey. pic.twitter.com/bfFLsbdigP — Quite Interesting (@qikipedia) March 3, 2015

But sometimes you really can be lucky enough to discover a new species in your own backyard. Steve did. Well, alright, it wasn’t right in his own backyard exactly (that’s poetic licence), but when he caught a female turtle on the Burdekin River in northern Queensland that he’d never seen before, he took photographs. Then he sent them to a turtle expert who verified that it was, in fact, a new species. It was named after him, Elseya irwini, also known as Irwin’s turtle.

Elseya irwini also known as Irwin’s turtle named after Steve Irwin
© Shutterstock / FeatureFlash Photo Agency and CC BY 2.0 Ian Sutton

And while we’re talking Irwins, let’s keep it in the family. The fast little spider called Leichhartdeus terriirwinae found in rainforest around Mount Aberdeen in Queensland was named after Terri Irwin.

Can you spot Charles Darwin in your yard?

Naturalist Charles Darwin had 11 new Australian species named after him in 2010. There were six spiders, a pseudoscorpion, a barnacle, a cyclopoid copepod, a leaf hopper, a lacebug and a parasite found in the intestines of the short-nosed bandicoot. Now, if that’s not celebrity status, I don’t know what is!

Other celebrities who had wildlife named after them:

Greta Thunberg:

  • Nelloptodes gretae - beetle
  • Caenis gretathunbergae - mayfly
  • Chibchea thunbergae - spider
  • Craspedotropis gretathunbergae - snail

Prince Charles

  • Hyloscirtus princecharlesi - stream tree frog

Bob Marley

  • Gnathia marleyi - small crustacean parasite

Ru Paul

  • Opaluma Rupaul - an Australian iridescent rainbow soldier fly

David Bowie

  • Heteropoda davidbowie - huntsman spider

So why do scientists these days name wildlife after celebrities? Well, it can give a threatened, endangered or newly discovered animal or plants wider attention.

Sometimes a species is named after a celebrity simply because the outfit worn on stage reminded them of a particular androgynous fern or because the legs of a certain beetle reminded the scientist of Arnold Schwartzenegger’s thighs.

So, do you have any celebrities living in your backyard? Try our new ‘My Backyard’ tool to search your local area and see what threatened wildlife you can discover around your home.

Once you’ve found out what wildlife your neighbours are, we offer you some simple solutions you can take to help protect and help them thrive.