Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: A Birthday, Some Critters, and a Fern!

Neil Young performs at Farm Aid in 2010
Neil Young

On November 12, 1945 – 73 years ago today – the singer, songwriter, guitarist, pianist, producer, director, screenwriter, humanitarian, entrepreneur, inventor and environmentalist Neil Percival Young was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

Upfront: I would tell you that Maestro Neil Young has been part of my life since my coming of age (which I count to 1966, when I was 12 years old). His songs, his voice, his guitar work and the bands in which he has played helped to define my teenage years and as such, my lasting musical sensibilities. His work with Buffalo Springfield (1966-1968); Crazy Horse (1968-1969); Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (1969-1970); and his acoustic work in the early seventies remains – for me – some of the best folk rock and rock ‘n’ roll ever played and recorded.

(Just for the heck of it, I’d point out that Young entered and then worked in the United States illegally, and only received his Green Card in 1970, making him one of the countless “illegal aliens” who have gone on to enrich the American cultural gene-pool. Just sayin’.)

Darryl Hannah and Neil Young
Darryl Hannah and Neil Young

(Another parenthetical observation. On October 31, 2018 – 12 days ago – Young admitted to having married the 57 year-old actress Darryl Hannah earlier this year, making him – in my opinion – a very lucky 73 year-old. Just sayin’.)

There’s no need to talk about Neil Young’s success; his albums have spent so much time on the U.S. and U.K. charts that he should have a penthouse suit atop them both. And there’s really no need to extensively detail the honors he has received, which include membership in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and being ranked 34th on Rolling Stone Magazine’s “100 Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Artists of All Time.” (I hate these stupid lists. Why shouldn’t Young be ranked #33, or #18, or #10? It’s all utterly arbitrary except for the fact that he is indeed one of the great ones.)

But of all the honors Neil Young has received, none is greater – in my eyes – than one bestowed upon him in 2008. That was year that Dr. Jason E. Bond, who at the time was an associate professor of biology at East Carolina University, named a new species of spider he had discovered in Jefferson County, Alabama after Neil Young, calling it: Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi

Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi and Neil Young
Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi and Neil Young

Dr. Bond explained his choice this way:

“There are rather strict rules about how you name new species, and these rules are outlined in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. As long as these rules are followed you can give a new species just about any name you please. With regards to Neil Young, I really enjoy his music and have had a great appreciation of him as an activist for peace and justice.”

This is beyond cool; it is the ginchiest (which is – or at least was – the South Jersey word for “beyond cool”). It is also on Dr. Bonds’ part an example of the very highest degree of geekdom and something that reinforces my belief that in the end, the nerds shall inheriteth the earth.

Stephen Colbert and Aptostichus stephencolberti
Stephen Colbert and Aptostichus stephencolberti

This same Dr. Jason E. Bond – who now teaches at Auburn University – has discovered thirty-six (36!) new spiders of the genus of Aptostichus, which live in California. Having the naming rights to all these new species came in handy for Dr. Bond. When Stephen Colbert announced on his show The Colbert Report the naming of Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi in 2008, he indignantly complained that Bond had not named a spider after him. Bond heard and acted. On the August 6, 2008 edition of The Colbert Report, Colbert announced that Bond had indeed named a new species of spider after him, Aptostichus stephencolberti; said Colbert, “and all I had to do was shamelessly beg on national television.” We would observe that as the final “t” in Colbert’s name is silent, so is the last “t” in Aptostichus stephencolberti.

For our information, other new species of spider named by Jason Bond include:

  • Aptostichus angelinajolieae
  • Aptostichus barackobamai
  • Aptostichus bonoi (as in U2’s “Bono”)
  • Aptostichus dorothealangeae
  • Aptostichus pennjillettei 

Indeed: as I have discovered researching this post, an astonishing number of species have been named for famous people. Sticking strictly with musicians, here are a few more. 

Celebrity Critters and Ferns

David Bowie

David Bowie and Heteropoda davidbowie
David Bowie and Heteropoda davidbowie

The German arachnologist Peter Jäger – the current Head of Arachnology (the study of spiders) at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germanyhas discovered over 200(!) species of spiders. He dubbed one of them – a large yellow spider found in Malaysia – Heteropoda davidbowie in honor of Bowie’s 1972 album entitled The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and his 1987 tour named the Glass Spider Tour.


A close-up of the head of Sericomyrmex radioheadi
A close-up of the head of Sericomyrmex radioheadi

While the band Radiohead has sold more than 30 million albums, that’s small change compared to having species named for you. That’s what Ana Ješovnik and Ted R. Schultz from the Smithsonian Institution’s Ant Lab did when they discovered a new species of ant in a Venezuelan rainforest, naming it Sericomyrmex radioheadi. Their magnificently geeky explanation for the name is:

“an acknowledgement of [Radiohead’s] longstanding efforts in environmental activism, especially in raising climate-change awareness, and in honor of their music, which is an excellent companion during long hours at the microscope while conducting taxonomic revisions of ants.”

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga and Gaga germanotta
Lady Gaga and Gaga germanotta

In 2012, an entire genus of 19 different species of ferns was named for Lady Gaga. Kathleen Pryer, a Duke University biology professor and director of the Duke Herbarium, was the leader of the study that named the ferns:

“We wanted to name this genus for Lady Gaga because of her fervent defense of equality and individual expression, and as we started to consider it, the ferns themselves gave us more reasons why it was a good choice.”

Among those reasons is the resemblance of the fern’s reproductive stage to the heart-shaped Armani Prive’ outfit Lady Gaga wore for her performance at the 2010 Grammys. The clincher, though, was the discovery that the DNA base pairs of the ferns spelled out “GAGA”. 

One of the ferns – Gaga germanotta was named for Lady Gaga’s family name, which is Germanotta. Another species was dubbed Gaga monstraparva (which means, literally, “monster-little”) in honor of Gaga’s fans, who she refers to as “little monsters.”


Scaptia beyonceae
Scaptia beyonceae

You’d think that the Queen B would have a bee named after her, but no such luck. Instead, Scaptia beyonceae is a species of horsefly native to Queensland, Australia. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization scientist Bryan Lessard who named the fly did so because of its literally bootylicious, golden-haired butt-end!

Pink Floyd 

Synalpheus pinkfloydi
Synalpheus pinkfloydi

In 2017, a new species of shrimp – discovered in the Gulf of Panama – was described and named. The shrimp has a huge, pink-red right claw. Amazingly, it hunts (and kills) with sound: by rapidly opening then snapping closed that claw, it creates a sound that can reach up to 210 decibels. To say that this is louder than a rock concert is an understatement: for human beings, 150 decibels is considered enough to burst our eardrums, and the threshold for death-by-sound is understood to be around 185-200 decibels. So back to the shrimp, whose 210 decibel snap is easily loud enough to kill small fish in its vicinity.

Dr. Sammy DeGrave the head of research at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History – named the shrimp Synalpheus pinkfloydi for his favorite band, Pink Floyd. Dr. DeGrave claims that the inspiration for the shrimp’s name was the color of its huge, snapping claw: pink. In an interview he pointed out that: “the reference is to the line, ‘by the way, which one of you is Pink?’ from the song Have A Cigar.”

(For our information, Dr. DeGrave and his colleagues named another species of shrimp Elephantis Jaggerai, after Mick Jagger.)

Bob Marley

Gnathia marleyi
Gnathia marleyi

Speaking of crustaceans, there is a blood-sucking fish parasite named Gnathia marleyi. It was discovered in the Caribbean in 2002 by a marine biologist named Paul Sikkel. Sikkel had the naming rights and he named it after Marley because of his “respect and admiration” for Marley’s music and because the species is “as uniquely Caribbean as was Marley.”

One more!

Frank Zappa

Pachygnatha zappa and Frank Zappa
Pachygnatha zappa and Frank Zappa

Robert Bosmans and Jan Bosselaers discovered a new species of orb weaver spider in Cameroon in 1981. The markings under the spider’s abdomen reminded them of Frank Zappa’s legendary moustache, and thus the creature was named Pachygnatha zappa.

(For our information: Frank Zappa also has a jellyfish named in his honor – Phialella zappai – as well as an entire fish genus, called Zappa. Having said that, the spider is the only one of the three creatures that bears something of a resemblance to him!)

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