A new louse species has been named Ricinus vaderi after Darth Vader, the evil character in the Star Wars movies, because of the similarity between the head of the louse and Darth Vader’s helmet.
Ricinus, the largest genus of chewing lice, parasitizes perching birds in the order Passeriformes. The new species is described in the journal Parasite. During their research, the authors studied 107 specimens of 10 species at the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg, Russia. These specimens are part of a larger collection, mainly assembled by Dimitri Iwanowitsch Blagoveshtchensky in the 1930s through the 1970s.
“We are excited by our new discoveries outlined in this paper,” said Miroslav Valan, one of the authors. “There is no doubt that descriptions of new species and new host-louse records are to be expected. Therefore, examining museum collections and revising material deposited worldwide is necessary to obtain more data concerning geographical distribution, biodiversity, and host associations of chewing lice. Data about the biodiversity of chewing lice within the former USSR has been published mainly in Russian, and existing literature is not easily accessible. We have reported only on those records we have been able to verify, but as well as the discovery of R. vaderi, we include new country records for Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.”
According to Jean-Lou Justine, editor-in-chief of Parasite, “This updated data should be of interest to a broad readership, including those interested in parasitology, host-parasite associations, entomology, morphology, taxonomy, and systematics of the Phthiraptera order. Blagoveshtchensky reported on more species specimens than were found in this collection, [so] we hope that this research means these lost samples will be found in the future — and hopefully not in a galaxy far, far away!”
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