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RuPaul and Pokemon could be key to exciting Aussies about the biodiverse world of insects, researchers believe.
While cute and cuddly animals like koalas are generally embraced by the public, scientists have struggled to get them interested in insects, especially flies.
With 150 new six-legged species discovered by the CSIRO in the past year, scientists were determined to give them “glamorous names” that would “catch people’s eyes” and make them rethink the world of creepy crawlies.
When the science agency’s National Research Collections’ Dr Bryan Lessard discovered a new species of soldier fly, he was struck by its “fabulous” colourful appearance and turned to the world’s most famous drag queen for inspiration.
“This species caught my attention because it was wearing a beautiful costume of rainbow metallic colours, and it even has a characteristic thorn tucked under its abdomen,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
“So I named it after RuPaul, the “Glamazon” herself.
“And I bet you it would challenge RuPaul on the runway because it has legs for days, and it’s really serving charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent.”
Key points about pop culture insect naming
New fly species named Opaluma rupaul after drag queen RuPaul
Beetles and weevils named after Pokemon and Digimon Adventure characters
150 new insect species named this year by national science agency, CSIRO
Pokemon a source of new Aussie insect names
Another entomologist, PhD candidate Yun Hsiao celebrated his love of Pokemon when it came his turn to start naming creatures.
Three newly discovered beetles have been called Binburrum articuno, Binburrum zapdos and Binburrum moltres, after three characters from the popular Japanese cartoon series: Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres.
Even humble weevils couldn’t escape the new trend, with one named after a character in Digimon Adventure, another well-known anime series.
The character, Digmon, possesses the power of drilling into the earth, like the weevil can bore into hard trunks of cycads, hence the name Demyrsus digmon.
Extinction threat to Aussie insects
There is a serious side to the colourful names, as many of the insects have been impacted by natural disaster or vulnerable to extinction.
“Many of the 13 new soldier flies I named are from areas impacted by the Black Summer bushfires,” Dr Lessard said.
“Two of these, Opaluma opulens and Antissella puprasina, have now been recognised as endangered species under the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List and are known [to be] only from Lamington National Park in Queensland, an area that was significantly burned in the bushfires.”
An estimated 30,000 species of flies live in Australia, and scientists are believed to have only named approximately one quarter of insect species in Australia.
Insects play an important role in keeping ecosystems healthy and are important to pollination of crops as well as native plants.
“A lot of Aussies will go to swat flies, but they are incredibly important pollinators and do a lot of jobs in the ecosystem that we take for granted,” Dr Lessard said.
“(RuPaul) flies are too pretty to swat. If you look at them under the microscope they look like opals, little gem stones and they’re really important nutrient recyclers, eating leaves and bark and turning it into compost that can be used by other plants and fungus.”
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