Saturday, 3 June 2006

Drops of mercury

Naming new species seems like a lot of fun ... until you have to do it. Using someone's name is always a good way out. Lots of species are named after their collectors, notable researchers (amateur or professional) or the author's friends and relatives. But the new species and the honoured person don't necessarily have to be connected in any way. That's the author's prerogative.

At least three species (a crustacean, a diatom and an insect) are named after Queen's Freddie Mercury. (Okay, I'm not sure about the insect—see below.) All were described after his death in 1991.

Crustacean biologist Niel* Bruce described an isopod from the waters of Bawe Island, Zanzibar. He called it Cirolana mercuryi because Mercury was 'arguably Zanzibar's most famous popular musician and singer'. Arguably? How many other famous popular musicians and singers have come out of Zanzibar? (Answers, please, on a post card to Niel, not me.)

The world of algae brings us Achnanthes mercuryi Witkowski, Metzeltin & Lange-Bertalot, a diatom from the Norwegian territory of Svalbard. This species was named after Mercury in remembrance of all AIDS sufferers.

There's a species of Italian stonefly called Taeniopteryx mercuryi Fochetti & Nicolai, which is endemic to the Abruzzo Mountains of central Italy. (But I'm not certain that it is named after the singer. I couldn't find any references on the Web so I may be forced to do things the old-fashioned way—go to a library.)

Now this raises two questions in my mind. 1) What would Mercury have thought about it? That is, of course, unanswerable. 2) Are there any species bearing the names of other members of Queen? I'm off to have a look.

*Yes, that's how it's spelled.

Read more
Bruce, N.L. (2003). Cirolana mercuryi sp. nov., a distinctive cirolanid isopod (Flabellifera) from the coral reefs of Zanzibar, East Africa. Crustaceana 76(9): 1071–1081.

Fochetti R. & Nicolai, P. (1996). The genus Taeniopteryx in Italy: biochemical and morphological data with the description of Taeniopteryx mercuryi n. sp. Bulletin de la SociĆ©te Entomologique Suisse: 69: 95–106.

Witkowski, A., Metzeltin, D. & Lange-Bertalot, H. (1996) in Lange-Bertalot, H. (ed.), Iconographia Diatomologica 4: 13.