Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Beyoncé is a fly … but why?

By Beth Mantle

What’s in a name? A whole lot of booty, and some Latin.

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In mid-January CSIRO announced that a new species of horse fly had been named after pop diva Beyoncé’s bottom. The story generated a real buzz across traditional and social media both in Australia and overseas.

Of course, scientific names don’t usually generate this kind of attention, and understandably so – when was the last time you laughed at a Latin name?

The science of describing and giving names to new species is called taxonomy. Like all science disciplines, taxonomy is subject to critical review and assessment by other taxonomists. It is also governed by strict rules devised by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN).

These rules exist to ensure that new scientific names aren’t accidentally duplicated, and that only one name is applied to the same species. This is important because every species must have a unique name so that scientists can be confident when they are referring to a particular species that they are all on the same page.

So how did Bryan Lessard – the researcher at the Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC) who described the fly, manage to get away with naming it after Beyoncé?

The first person to formally “describe” a species in a scientific publication is allowed to name it, although this isn’t always the person that found the specimen.

Many new species are described from museum...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Beth Mantle 
is Collection Manager of the Australian National Insect Collection at CSIRO. This article was originally published at The Conversation.