Lions, tigers, and xenomorphs — oh my! The worlds of biology, paleontology, and genre (fantasy, horror, and sci-fi) often overlap. Inspiration from real life makes for fantastical creations, and then those imaginative elements are found back in nature, continuing the cycle. That means plenty of animals, from giant dinosaurs to microscopic organisms, owe their names to some of the best genre fiction the world has to offer.
Obviously this isn't a comprehensive list (there could have been 12 Harry Potter entries alone), but here are 20 of our favorite animals named for genre powerhouse franchises:
Parasitoid wasps have to murder things in order to reproduce, just like those horrible xenomorphs in the Alien franchise. When a new opportunity arose to name a species of these vicious critters in 2018, researchers jumped at the chance to dub it the Dolichogenidea xenomorph. With long black bodies and egg injections that would make any space-faring worker squeal, the wasp is almost as scary as its otherworldly namesake.
A catfish from Brazil might not be the most impressive or evocative creature that could've possibly been named after Star Wars or its characters, but fans can't deny the similarities Peckoltia greedoi bears to its namesake. Bounty hunter Greedo of Rodia has a similarly bug-eyed, curved-snouted face (before he's blasted to Bantha fodder by Han Solo in the first Star Wars) to the fish, so it just made sense to pay homage to a galaxy far, far away.
The stem-nesting Charizard, a kind of Chilean bee discovered by Spencer K. Monckton in 2016, can't breathe fire. It does, however, have long horn-like antennae and a snout-like face that makes it look a bit like the final evolution of Pokémon's original fire starter.
There is no dinosaur, only Zuul! That's probably what the paleontologists from the Royal Ontario Museum thought when they dug up a new armored dinosaur back in 2017 and named it after Ghostbusters' famous baddie. Why? The horns on Zuul crurivastator's head and its long torso reminded the scientists of the demonic dogs from the spectral comedy.
Trimeresurus salazar (Salazar's pit viper)
The most fitting creature to be named for a character in the Harry Potter universe, Trimeresurus salazar comes from Hogwarts co-founder and all-around shady character Salazar Slytherin. Slytherin spoke Parseltongue, hid a Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets, and even made his Hogwarts house's symbol a silver and green snake. This striking pit viper, discovered in 2019, carries on his serpentine legacy.
A dinosaur named for a single skull bone, Sauroniops pachytholus owes much to its intense orbital region. In fact, that's where it gets its Lord of the Rings-referencing name, as paleontologists Andrea Cau, Fabio Dalla Vecchia, and Matteo Fabbri decided to pay their respects to the powerful Eye of Sauron. The large dino was fittingly named for the bumpy bone atop its head, just as the creator of the One Ring is best known in the series as a fiery eye atop a tower.
This discovery by paleontologists Rafael Delcourt and Fabiano Vidoi Iori was, perhaps, inevitable. Named for the Avengers series villain and Mad Titan of the MCU himself, Thanos simonattoi was a carnivorous predator like the rest of the Abelisaurid theropods. "Thanos simonattoi was a killer and Thanos (Marvel) was a Titan," Iori told SYFY WIRE. However, dinosaur claws made wearing gauntlets extremely difficult so that's where the similarities end.
One of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's best "character names as jokes," Slartibartfast, isn't necessarily the Douglas Adams reference that screams "scientific name," but thanks to some New Zealand scientists and one fjord-dwelling fish, it became a reality. Bidenichthys slartibartfasti is a deepwater fish that shares a love of fjords with its namesake, who was a specialist in the planet-construction business that won awards for his work in Norway.
Bazinga. That's right. Bazinga. The Big Bang Theory catchphrase has its own bee. Why? According to Brazilian discoverer Andre Nemesio, "Sheldon Cooper’s favorite comic word 'bazinga,' used by him when tricking somebody, was here chosen to represent the character. Euglossa bazinga sp. n. has tricked us for some time due to its similarity to E. ignita, what led us to use 'bazinga.'" A tricky bee and a nonsense punchline: a match made in genre heaven.
Filistata maguirei and Pritha garfieldi
Not one, but two Iranian spiders pay their respects to cinematic Peter Parker portrayers. Filistata maguirei and Pritha garfieldi, named for actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, were discovered in 2015 by Alireza Zamani and Yuri M. Marusik. The pair seem like true Spider-Man fans, offering up an equal spider each to the two on-screen Spideys up to that point. When will Tom Holland get his own species?
There's no way that Godzilla escaped the pop culture name-a-thon, especially with the incredible diversity of dinosaurs on offer. At least one paleontologist had to be watching old kaiju movies, right? That's what happened with the Gojirasaurus quayi, one of the largest known Triassic theropods. What's unknown, however, is if the creature had a frenemy that was a giant moth.
Getting a chewing louse named after him is exactly the kind of humor used by comic artist Gary Larson. The Far Side is both surreal, silly, and self-effacing, so the parasite — that only lives in the feathers of a south African white-faced owl — was the perfect pick to be Larson's animal legacy. Dale Clayton, an evolutionary parasitologist at the University of Utah, was definitely having his own fun when he named the creature (with permission from Larson!) in 1989.
This Vietnamese velvet worm, named Eoperipatus Totoros, derives its etymology from the Studio Ghibli classic My Neighbor Totoro and its iconic, caterpillar-like Catbus. But it's not all sweet legs with this critter: the velvet worm can spit glue onto its prey and eat the poor, stuck victims. Definitely not heartwarming. Also, no headlight eyes. Bummer.
Discovered last April, the tentacled sea cucumber relative Sollasina cthulhu is named for H.P. Lovecraft's unknowable monster. “There’s this idea of having lots of tentacle-like appendages covering the body. It’s just something that resonated with me,” discovering team lead Iman Rahman said of the 45-tentacled beast. Now that's a cosmic horror right there.
Something named after SpongeBob SquarePants would probably be a sea sponge, right? Or a starfish? At least a squid — or something that lives under the sea (not in a pineapple, though)? However, the Spongiforma squarepantsii is in fact a mushroom that's texture mimics that of the famous cartoon sponge. Found in Borneo by San Francisco State University researchers, the mushroom does not boast a high-pitched laugh.
The director of everything from E.T. to Close Encounters of the Third Kind was honored with a dinosaur of his very own — something Steven Spielberg, the director of Jurassic Park, probably enjoyed. The Coloborhynchus spielbergi is a kind of flying pterosaur discovered in Brazil...not Isla Nublar.
Naming a nasty, spiky brittle star after A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin might seem like asking to be killed at the Red Wedding, but that's what Timothy O'Hara did with Ophiohamus georgemartini. But this relative of the starfish wasn't named for any bloodthirsty trait — rather, it was its spiky design that reminded O'Hara of the cover of Martin's Clash of Kings.
Na na na na na na na na na na na na na: Otocinclus batmani! Another catfish named for an iconic genre character because of its aethetics, the Otocinclus batmani "alludes to Bob Kane's hero Batman of the comic adventures, which had a bat shape for his symbol, referring to the single W- or bat-shaped vertical spot on the caudal-fin," according to discoverer Pablo Lehmann A.
Cowabunga, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans. The etymology behind the Ninjemys oweni is so perfectly encapuslated by its own scientific namer that his words should suffice: "Ninja, in allusion to that totally rad, fearsome foursome epitomizing shelled success; emys, turtle."
African spider Hortipes terminator was thankfully not named for its deadly or unstoppable nature, nor for the fact that it came from the future. Instead, the spider got its name because the male, "observed from the ventral side, looks like a futuristic gun," according to scientists Jan Bosselaers and Rudy Jocque. But doesn't the Terminator just use present-day shotguns? This is not something spider scientists concern themselves with.