Who says taxonomists are dry and don't understand pop culture. In recent years several species of plants have been named after celebrities bearing similar characteristics or simply in their honor.
The latest was a whole genus of ferns named after Lady Gaga discovered by Duke University students and professors. There are 19 species within the genus called Gaga. There were many reasons that lead the researchers to choose the pop singer's name. The ferns were found in Central and South America, Mexico, Arizona and Texas, according to Duke's news release on the discovery, and when examined at different life stages and at the DNA level, they were very similar to the singer herself.
For example, the bisexual reproductive state for the ferns (its gametophyte stage) looks very much like that of a costume Gaga wore at the 2010 Grammies. Duke University biology professor Kathleen Pryer said she also thinks one of Gaga's signature moves known as "paws up" -- a claw formation with her hand -- looks similar to how new leaves on the ferns unfurl.
Lady Gaga next to the gametophyte state of a fern named after her. (Image: Duke University)
"The biology of these ferns is exceptionally obscure and blurred by sexual crossing between species," Pryer said in a statement to the university. "They have high numbers of chromosomes and asexuality that can lead to offspring that are genetically identical to the parent plant."
Pryer demonstrates Gaga's "paws up" move next the fern unfurling, thinking the two look similar. (Image: YouTube screenshot)
The name was sealed when graduate student Fay-Wei Li was analyzing the DNA and found the base pairs of guanine and adenine (GAGA) being a distinguishing factor for this ferns from other genera. According to Duke, it was DNA analysis that lead to the reclassification of the genus from Cheilanthes.
Pryor said she and her fellow research students are big fans of Lady Gaga and wanted to honor her "defense of equality and individual expression" by naming the genus for her.
Watch Duke's video report on the new Gaga species:
In addition to the Gaga ferns, there have been more celebrity induced scientific names in recent years as well. Here are a few of them.
- Scaptia (Plinthina) beyonceae: This species of fly with a golden rear end was named for the singer Beyonce earlier this year.
A fly named after Beyonce. (Photo: AP/Bryan Lessard, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization
- Caloplaca obamae: A lichen was named in 2009 for President Barack Obama to "appreciation for the president's support of science and science education."
The Obama lichen. (Photo: J.C. Lendemer)
- Agaporomorphus colberti: This diving beetle was named for comedian Stephen Colbert in 2009.
Beetled named for Stephen Colbert. (Photo: Arizona State University)
The Daily Telegraph pointed out upon the announcement of the so called "bootylicious fly" that naming organisms after celebrities is in accordance with the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature.
Perhaps not achieving full-fledged scientific names, the Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton had an orchid named in honor of them this year at Singapore's National Orchid Garden. There is also one there for the price's mother, Diana.