Entry 499: Goodbye Yellow Brick Shrimp

Did you know that scientists are always discovering new species?

I’m not talking about species that have been created, like ligers, or the Cotton Candy Grapes® I mentioned in my previous post, or Fried Cookie Dough on a Stick.* I’m talking about plants and animals that have been out there in the wild all along, hanging out, waiting for humans to discover them so they could become extinct.

Take, for instance, the recently discovered crustacean called “Leucothoe eltoni.” This shrimpcreature was extraordinarily difficult to find, residing, as it does, inside other creatures. Specifically, the leucothoe eltoni that is causing such excitement in, well in whatever places people get excited about such things, was discovered in “the branchial chambers of solitary tunicates.”

I didn’t know what a solitary tunicate was (other than lonely), so I looked up the Wikipedia entry for tunicate, which begins like this:

A tunicate is a marine invertebrate animal, a member of the subphylum Tunicata, which is part of the Chordata, a phylum which includes all animals with dorsal nerve cords and notochords.

So I still don’t know what a tunicate is.

But let’s get back to our cutting-edge crustacean, “leucothoe eltoni.” Before you get out your lobster pot, there are three things you should know about it:

  1. Leucothoe eltoni is more shrimp-like than lobster-like, so put the pot away.
  2. As you may have surmised from its AirBnB-like living arrangements, leucothoe eltonis are very small. So if you want to grill them, you can get quite a few on a skewer. Or a toothpick.
  3. The “eltoni” part of its name is not from Latin or Greek. It’s from the British. Specifically, the British person named Elton John. I tell you that in case you’d feel weird about putting a few Elton Johns on the barby.

As you know, one of the best things about finding new stuff, whether it’s an animal, or a comet, or a disease, is that you get to name it. In this way, scientists can leave behind a legacy and be remembered fondly whenever someone is diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome or Alzheimer’s Disease.

But the discoverer of Leucothoe eltoni, James Thomas, possibly didn’t want to be known for a minuscule shrimp. So he used Elton John, because “Leucothoe liberace” sounds ridiculous.

Just kidding. You can name things after anything you want, not just flamboyant performers. I’ll let Thomas himself tell you why he chose Elton:

“I named the species in honor of Sir Elton John because I have listened to his music in my lab during my entire scientific career.”

I suppose we’re fortunate that Thomas isn’t a fan of Lady GaGa.

In any case, you might think Sir Elton would be flattered by this zoological tribute, but I’m not so sure. You see, James Thomas didn’t only name the rocking crustacean because he eltonshoeslikes Elton’s music. Nor was it just because he has an affinity for other people who have two first names. No, Elton came to James’ mind because the shrimp looked like him.

How’s that for an honor?

That’s a picture of Leucothoe eltoni above and, frankly, I don’t see the resemblance. But Thomas says the enormous claw-things reminded him of the shoes Elton wore in the seacreaturemovie Tommy.

Well, okay. But it seems to me if you’re going to name an animal after Elton John, it should be this guy.**

See you soon.

glasses*My daughter Casey recently sampled this at the Minnesota State Fair and declared it to be “heavenly,” easily the most delicious of all state fair cuisine on a stick.

**This is a real creature called Pyura chilensis.  Interestingly, Pyura chilensis is a tunicate, although I don’t know if it is solitary.  However, wouldn’t it be great if a creature that looked liked Elton’s feet lived inside a creature that looked like Elton’s face?

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