March 14, 2007

Appellation spring

Composers are aiming for the wrong star. Commissions? Pulitzers? Joan Peyser tell-all biographies? Pffft. Everybody knows the real fame is in taxonomic designations. You'll know you've made it when there's a sludgy, possibly extinct organism that's named for you.

Buxtehudea scaniaeTo the left there is the microsporidian parasite Buxtehudea scaniae, surrounded by a mitochondrion of the cell it's mooching off of. Both the genus and the family, Buxtehudidae, were named for the guy Bach hiked across Germany to hear by Swedish biologist Ronny Larsson of Lund University, who's also honored his countrymen Hugo Alfven and Franz Berwald with microscopic fungi of their own.

The Australian chalcidologist A. A. Girault killed two birds with one stone in 1926 with the wasp Mozartella beethoveni. As he described the species:
Mozartella (Ectromini).
As Mesorhopella but golden, antenna short, capitate, club equal funicle, funicles transverse. Ovipositor ¼ abdomen, latter depressed=cordate[.] Veins subequal. Minute.

M. beethoveni. Wings clear, veins pale. Funicles 1-2 twice wider than long, longest, rest wider. Pedicel bit longer than wide. Discal cilia well toward base, of hind wing, 15 lines. Pinkenba, Q. ex galls, May 10, 1916. H. Jarvis.
Cymbiola rossinianaChopin has a moth, Fernandocrambus chopinellus. And Rossini has a seashell, Cymbiola rossiniana, described by M. Bernardi in 1859, making him possibly the first musician so honored. (That's the shell, commonly called Rossini's volute, at right.)

Most recent speciations have pertained to pop musicians. The Beatles have quite a few beasties named after them, the most pertinent being Greeffiella beatlei, a nematode worm identified by S. Lorenzen in 1969—the worm's shagginess perhaps resembling a Beatle haircut. The Godfather of Soul lives on as the mite Funkotriplogynium iagobadius, named by Seeman and Walter in 1997 ("iago"="James" and "badius"="Brown"); Mark Knopfler got a dinosaur. But Australian paleontologist Greg Edgecombe leads the field here, naming scores of trilobites after the Rolling Stones, the Ramones, Simon & Garfunkel, and, my personal favorite, the Sex Pistols: Arcticalymene viciousi, A. rotteni, A. jonesi, A. cooki, and A. matlocki.

The best story, though, has to be the jellyfish Phialella zappai. Marine biologist Ferdinando Boero got himself transferred to a lab in California so he could meet Frank Zappa, his musical hero, by naming a jellyfish after him. The plan worked—in spades: take a listen to You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, vol. 6, and you can hear "Lonesome Cowboy Burt" rewritten as "Lonesome Cowboy Nando."

When I get off, I get plastered.
I swim till I fall on the jellyfish.
Then I find me some academic kind of illustrator,
I describe the little dangling utensils on this thing,
And tell him to draw it up
So it looks just like a brand new jellyfish.

(You can read more about Boero's friendship with Zappa here. Here's more stuff named for Zappa. Scroll down here and you can find more musicians.)

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