Thursday, March 19, 2015

Star Wars Taxonomy

The Han solo agnostid trilobite is called "solo" because it's the
only species in the genus Han (via). Sure. I buy that.

Since the days of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) and his major works Systema Naturae (1st Edition in 1735), and in fact, to some degree beforehand, categorizing life as we know it and building the greater family tree of organisms has been a major scientific endeavour which has helped us to understand where we all come from. The taxonomists I have known, do fascinating and important work, to map who is out there and where they came from and what they are doing.

Today is Taxonomy Appreciation Day (#TaxonomyDay). So, I thought I would take the chance to appreciate not only their fundamental research contributions to categorizing the organisms of the world, but their inventiveness in naming and relating discoveries to important culture - specifically Star Wars. Because this is what serious science is all about.

Consider the one and only species in the genus Han, an agnostif trilobite (above), officially named after the Han Chinese (the fossil is from northern Hunan Province, China). As the sole Han, a monotypic taxon, it must of course be called 'solo'. The similarity of the name Han solo and Han Solo of the original Star Wars triology are purely coincidental, no doubt. (via Buzzfeed)

The 1997 "Special Edition" of Star Wars depicts Greedo
firing a shot at Han Solo shortly before Han reponds in kind.
In the original 1977 release, Han is the only one to fire. (wikipedia)

Many Star Wars fans will recall the 'Han shot first' controversy. The original 1977 version of Star Wars shows Han shooting the body hunter Greedo first; this was changed for the 1997 Special Edition.  A fairly recently-discovered species of  suckermouth armored catfish was named Peckoltia greedoi by an Auburn University trio led by Jonathan Armbruster. Because life is odd, the choice is less of a stretch than you might imagine. See for yourself:

Images: Auburn University via Flickr & Greedo picture courtesy

The trapdoor spider Aptostichus sarlacc (Bond, 2012) is named for the sarlacc sand-pit creature from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi who consumes people and animals thrown into his gaping maw. I don't actually know what type of trapdoor spider is shown below, but I think it illustrates why they might remind you of the hole in the sand from which no one returns.

The Great Pit of Carkoon with the original
sarlacc from Return of the Jedi (1983) (via wikipedia)

A trapdoor spider (via)
Scanning electron microscope image of the oribatid mite Darthvaderum apparently reminded Hunt (1996) of a certain villain's helmut.

Darthvaderum versus Darth Vader (via quazoo)

"Yoda purpurata, or "purple Yoda."The reddish-purple acorn worm was found about 1.5 miles beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, and the large lips in either side of its head region that reminded researchers of the floppy-eared Stars Wars character Yoda." Credit: David Shale via livescience
Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back via wikipedia
Well-loved, diminuative, ancient, green jedi teacher Yoda is honoured in the names of both with an acorn worm, Yoda purpurata, and a parasitic isopod Albunione yoda, with lips and lateral flaps, respectively, which protrude from their heads and remind researchers of Yoda's long, pointy ears. Neither geography, nor shape explains the Tetramorium jedi ant, named for the Star Wars jedi knights. They do not even have any light sabers.

So here's to the taxonomers; may the force with with you.

(with thanks to Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature)

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