By Eduardo Faúndez
A few months ago here at North Dakota State University’s Systematic Entomology Laboratory, we named an insect Planois smaug after J. R. R. Tolkien’s famous creature Smaug the Dragon. We chose that particular name because the specimens of Planois smaug were ‘sleeping’ in collections for about 60 years, like Tolkiens’ creature, and because of the large size of the insect. In fact, it is the largest of its family in the southern tip of South America.
Sooner that I expected, we decided to use another Tolkien-based name. This time we named a Tessaratomid bug from New Guinea, Tamolia ancalagon, after Ancalagon the Black, and there are several reasons for this name too.
Tessaratomidae is a small family of true bugs, but the species within the family are not small at all. This family includes some of the largest terrestrial true bugs, and they are actually eaten in some parts of the world.
“It was a really big new species and it deserved a name related to it,” said Mariom Carvajal, who led the research and chose the name.
Looking for a name that alludes to the size of our bug — maybe the funnest part of working in a lab — we remembered that we named Planois smaug for being large, but this one was way larger! So, the following question came up: Is there a dragon larger than Smaug? And the answer was yes, there is one especially large dragon: Ancalagon the Black.
Although not as famous as Smaug, Ancalagon was described as being enormous, and is the largest dragon that ever existed in Tolkien’s Universe. Ancalagon was definitely big enough for our bug, and he also is black and terrifying. Our bug matched this last part too.
Mariom described it as “perfectly and elegantly black-colored, with acute terminations that make him look like a bad guy, and with the perfect touch of ‘reddish thunders’ crossing the middle part of its forewings.” Therefore, the three of us were really convinced that Tamolia ancalagon was a perfect name for our bug!
There are millions of undescribed species that need names, and all of them are unique. In our point of view, a way to stress that uniqueness is by choosing names that are as unique as the species themselves.
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Eduardo I. Faúndez is a PhD student at North Dakota State University in the laboratory of David A. Rider in Fargo, ND, and he is the director of the Medical Zoology Department at Centro de Estudios en Biodiversidad in Chile. His major research areas are systematics of the Heteroptera and medical zoology.