A new group of butterflies has been named after the Lord of the Rings villain Sauron.
The black rings on the flying insects’ bright orange wings are reminiscent of the all-seeing eye described in JRR Tolkien’s books and portrayed in the film series.
Scientists including Dr. Blanca Huertas, senior curator of butterflies at the Natural History Museum, named the new genus Saurona.
While there are currently only two members of this new group – Saurona triangula and Saurona aurigera – many more undescribed species are thought to exist.
Saurona is one of several new groups of butterflies described by an international team of researchers in a new publication, and one of two identified by Dr. Huertas were named.
dr Huertas and a colleague named the second genus Argenteria, which translates to English as silver mine, because of the silver scales on the wings.
“Naming one genus doesn’t happen very often, and naming two at the same time is even rarer,” said Dr. Huertas. “This was a great privilege and now means that we can start describing new species that we have discovered as a result of this research.”
She added: “Giving these butterflies an unusual name helps draw attention to this underrated group.
“It shows that even in a group of very similar looking species, one can find beauty in inertia.”
Experts believe this interest can in turn lead to research with important insights, including whether species are endemic or critically endangered in an area.
The broader research was the culmination of decades of work studying the butterfly subphylum Euptychiina by a team of 30 scientists collaborating around the world, including researchers from the Natural History Museum London, Harvard University, the Florida Museum of Natural History and Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig.
More than 400 different species were analyzed, with the Natural History Museum’s butterfly collections making a significant contribution with more than 5.5 million specimens.
Researchers have been able to use advances in DNA sequencing to identify similar-looking species based not only on their appearance but also on their genetics.
While Saurona triangula and Saurona aurigera are the first butterflies named after Sauron, a dung beetle, a frog, and even a dinosaur have been named after the villain, also in a nod to the eye.
The results are published in the journal Systematic Entomology.
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