The first insect Bryan Lessard was named after a pop culture icon was the fly Beyoncé. Scaptia beyonceas, in 2011.
At the time, the CSIRO entomologist caused quite a stir and was “frowned upon” by some taxonomists.
A decade later, cultural icon RuPaul has become the first drag queen to be forever enshrined as a soldier fly, and is the 50th species to be named by Lessard.
The RuPaul fly is part of a new Australian genus called Opaluma (from the Latin words for opal and thorn), because they look like “little gems buzzing across the forest floor” and have a distinctive thorn hidden under their abdomen.
Lessard said the growing practice of naming insects as pop culture icons has helped endangered species gain attention in response to environmental threats like climate change.
“There is a new wave of entomologists using pop culture to generate interest in our science and what we do, which is really exciting,” Lessard said.
“It’s a great way to draw attention to why flies are important, to get as many people as possible talking about these species that need help, so they can be protected.
“With wildfire recovery efforts, the focus is usually on cute and cuddly species like koalas, but many of the invertebrates are neglected and are the essential workers in our ecosystem… it’s really important that we study them. “
Lessard said to name the soldier fly Opaluma rupaul It came as an “obvious decision”.
“I’ve been watching a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race while surveying the species and I know it would challenge RuPaul on the track with fierce looks,” Lessard said.
“He has a costume in bright metallic rainbow colors and has legs for days. I think once (Ru) sees the fly, he will realize that it is quite fierce and hopefully he will appreciate the name. “
Nine of the 13 new soldier flies named by Lessard come from areas badly burned by the 2019-20 wildfires. Only two species had been sighted in Queensland’s Lamington National Park, which lost 80% of its cover during the fires.
“Naming a species is the first step to understanding and protecting it because otherwise they are invisible to science,” Lessard said.
“We have probably lost thousands of species that we do not even know about in wildfires because they have not been documented, when it is so important that our native species receive that attention.
“That’s why I want to give them great names, so that people will be excited about them.”
Other species, named after PhD candidate Yun Hsiao, include three beetles named after Pokémon characters Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres, and a new cycad boring weevil named after the fictional insectoid Digmon from the television series. Japanese anime.
The insectoid possesses the power to pierce and manipulate the earth, just as the weevil can pierce the hard trunks of cycads.
“He’s a huge Pokémon fan,” Lessard said. “Pokémon inspired him to become an entomologist, and he noticed that three beetles were really hard to find in remote areas of Australia, kind of like these really rare Legendary Pokémon.”
Lessard hoped his work would encourage citizen scientists and conservationists to help monitor wildlife and insects, as part of a national push for scientists to document and name all Australian species.
He said documenting native species would make it easier to identify exotic mosquitoes and prevent possible incursions of new diseases.
“We were able to identify a new exotic mosquito this year that is a vector for the Japanese encephalitis virus and we used DNA printing to compare it to a population in Timor-Leste,” Lessard said.
“We think they could have been blown over the sea or traveled on transport boats. But when it was first detected in Darwin, it was mistaken for a native species. “
Australia was home to roughly half a million species, with 70% yet to be discovered.
At the current rate of taxonomic discovery, it would take over 100 years to document all of Australia’s unknown species.
Lessard expected the process to accelerate in the coming years as the perceived value of the taxonomy increased.
TO Deloitte report released in June found that the benefit of documenting Australian biodiversity would be worth between $ 3 billion and $ 29 billion.
“We really need to encourage the next generation to help us name, describe and protect our unique biodiversity in Australia.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism