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Naming a Bug After a Droid: The Case of Kaytuesso flavolateralis

Kaytuesso flavolateralis and K2SO

A newly described species of true bug in the family Tessaratomidae was discovered in Papua New Guinea also belongs to a new genus. The researchers who named it dubbed the genus Kaytuesso and the species Kaytuesso flavolateralis. The genus Kaytuesso is so named for a perceived resemblance to K-2SO, a droid character (right, in action-figure form) from the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (Photo credits: Eduardo Faundez, Ph.D.)

By Eduardo Faúndez, Ph.D.

One of the most exciting parts of our job as taxonomists is to choose a name for the new taxa (i.e., genera, species, subspecies) we discover. Although a classical approach—in which Latin terms referring to morphology, distribution, or other attributes of the species or genus—is the most common way to go, several of us are taking the approach of using pop culture names. Though, on occasion, this may be challenging, too.

Eduardo Faúndez, Ph.D.

This is the case that my colleagues—Mariom Carvajal at the Instituto de la Patagonia, University of Magallanes, and David Rider, Ph.D., at North Dakota State University—and I faced when trying to name a new genus and dedicate it to one of the droids from the Star Wars universe: K-2SO.

Although zoological nomenclature is somehow flexible in how we use the words dedicating names to something, it may be usual to Latinize the name or use as it is; however, how do you deal with names including numbers or even non-alphanumeric characters?

We had a very nice tessaratomid bug, blackish in color with lateral yellow ornaments; it was really looking to us like K-2SO. Thus, instead of desisting, we believed there should be a way. Social networks gave us the answer: We found the hashtag #kaytuesso, referring to the spelling of K-2SO!

So we got it. In January 2018, in a paper published in the journal Zootaxa, we named our new genus Kaytuesso, with its new species Kaytuesso flavolateralis, the specific name referring to the lateral yellowish ornaments of this bug. So, for future reference, there is a possibility for C-3PO (#seethreepio) R2-D2 (#artoodetoo) and even BB-8 (#beebeeate) to get their own species or genera!

That said, I will explain a little bit about our reasons to choose such names. First, because it is fun, and it makes your work a little bit easier to explain to people. Thus, we go to a second reason: It is a way for us as taxonomists to do extension, teach a little bit of what we are working on, and increase the awareness of biodiversity on Earth.

However, these are not the only reasons. There is also one technical reason to be more creative when naming new taxa, especially new genera: to avoid homonymy. A homonym in zoological nomenclature is when two different taxa occupy the same name. In these cases the later homonym (i.e., junior homonym) has to be renamed. At the species level, this is not too problematic, as taxonomists working on within a genus are likely to be familiar with other species within it. However, in genera, homonymy seems to be more problematic, as you can have two homonym genera in different branches of the animal kingdom—for instance, one in arthropods and the other in mammals—so the specialists in one may have no idea of the other usage of that name. So, before naming we need to check some databases and make sure our name has not been used before. (And, even doing that, homonymy still occurs sometimes!)

So, when all the names you have in mind are used, you have to come up with something entirely new, and then some of us like to go to pop culture, as many of these names have not been already used, especially if they are relatively recent.

Some people like these kind of names, whereas others prefer traditional naming; however, the important thing to us is that, in either side, people get to know the taxa and talk about them, putting their eyes on biodiversity—something badly needed in our current times.

Eduardo I. Faúndez, Ph.D., is an entomologist at the Instituto de la Patagonia, University of Magallanes, in Punta Arenas, Chile. His major research areas are systematics of the Heteroptera and medical zoology.

1 Comment »

  1. The culture of science at play, but because language itself is cultural. Naming is inherently giving a symbol for a thing. Most of the names have a symbolic connection to something that has been defined already in the language (be it a real or fictional historical character or concept) and its derivatives. In an absolutist sense, the cultural context could be lost at some time – don’t we all get fascinated at obscure camera or automotive terms today, as there is no relevant symbolic meaning to those terms or it needs to be “known” besides knowing a language. If terms don’t make sense, we have a tendency to find out, thus invest more time. Being culturally-agnostic / frontup-descriptive helps there.

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