Lead study author Derek Hennen is a self-proclaimed Swiftie and wanted to honor the singer. He was a doctoral candidate at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg at the time of the research.
“Her music has gotten me through tough times, and it’s kind of a nice little thank you I can give for the joy her music has brought me,” Hennen said.
Hennen found the Appalachian millipede in Fall Creek Falls State Park in Spencer, Tennessee, the same state Swift moved to as a teenager to pursue her singing career.
If Swift hears about the naming, Hennen hopes she’s happy about it and uses it as an opportunity to learn more about the millipede.
“For a scientist, naming a species after someone is intended to be an honor, so I hope she views it positively,” he said.
It’s a “pretty” millipede with a chestnut brown color and reddish-orange spots on its sides, Hennen said.
Paul Marek, associate professor in the Virginia Tech department of entomology and formal doctoral candidate Jackson Means at Virginia Tech, traveled with Hennen across 17 states from 2015 to 2019 and found 17 new millipede species.
“It’s funny because when I started, it’s like ‘Wow! A new species!’ but after we’d been at it a couple years, it’s like ‘We got another new species of millipedes, throw it in the pile,’ “Hennen said.
Millipedes are one of the more lesser-known creatures because they are not as flashy as butterflies or dragonflies, which is why so many new species are being discovered, he said.
These insects prefer wild habitats and are important in the nutrient cycling process, Hennen said. Millipedes act as “leaf recyclers,” eating dead plants and pooping, thereby fertilizing the soil, he explained.
Another special millipede
Swift isn’t the only person to have Hennen name a millipede discovery after her. Hennen named another new species Nannaria marianae, also known as the Maple Flats twisted-claw millipede, after his wife, Marian.
On their walks together, his wife would wait patiently while Hennen looked for millipedes, which happened on almost every outing, he said.
“She was beside me the whole time while I was working on my Ph.D. and gave me a lot of love and support, and this is my way of showing her my love and support for her,” Hennen said.
Celebrity hall of fame
Other celebrities have had an animal or plant named after them.
- Drag queen RuPaul had a rainbow-colored fly, Opaluma rupaul, named after him.
- A bee fly found in Australia was named Paramonovius nightking, after the Night King in Game of Thrones.
- Leonardo DiCaprio had a tree, Uvariopsis dicaprio, named after him for his conservation efforts.
- Australian scientists named a number of new species after Marvel characters, including Thor. The scientific name of the fly species is Daptolestes bronteflavus, with the second word translating to “blond thunder.”
- Many other animals are named after celebrities like Dolly Parton and Lady Gaga. Parton had a lichen named after her called Japewiella dollypartoniana and Gaga had a had an entire plant genus named monstraparva, also known as its DNA sequence, GAGA.