News People The many animals named after David Attenborough

The many animals named after David Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough
Sir David says for the first time in the history of humanity, one species has the future of the world in its hands. Photo: Supplied/ABC
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A newly discovered, large, colourful semi-slug, found only in Tasmania, is the latest species to be named after broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

With more than six decades in the spotlight, Sir David is recognised as a pioneer in promoting the world’s biodiversity and making a significant contribution to natural history – and being one of the most beloved broadcasters of all time.

The Attenborougharion rubicundus is far from the first species to be named after Sir David, with his ability to make biology exciting and accessible making him a popular choice for the honour.

Here are just some of the species that have been named after him – we stuck to animals, because if we had included plants as well, the list would be twice as long.

A new species of snail

Attenborougharion rubicundus
Attenborougharion rubicundus, named after David Attenborough. Photo: The Australian Museum

As well as bestowing him with its highest honour of Lifetime Patron, the Australian Museum has named this mollusc, found only in south-eastern Tasmania, after Sir David.

Attenborougharion rubicundus is also known as the Burgundy Snail, but is actually a semi-slug – a snail with a shell so small it cannot retract into it.

The animal is bright green and bright red and about 40 millimetres in length.

Australian Museum Trust president Catherine Livingstone AO said Sir David had “no peer” in his contribution to the natural world.

“Australia and the international community have benefited from your curiosity, knowledge, and unending commitment to the natural world to bring us the stories, and make us aware of the challenges we face, in a way that no one else has been able to do,” she said.

A possum-like prehistoric lion

Artist impression of prehistoric cat
The marsupial is on display at the Queensland Museum. Photo: Dr Anna Gillespie/ABC

Last year the fossil of an extinct marsupial lion unearthed in remote north-west Queensland was named after Sir David.

A team of palaeontologists found some of the animal’s teeth exposed on a small block of limestone, understood to be about 18 million years old.

“Teeth can tell you an awful lot about an animal,” Dr Anna Gillespie from the University of New South Wales said.

“I would have thought it would have been very possum-like, like a small ringtail possum or even one of the small climbing carnivorous marsupials that live today.”

The marsupial, formally named Microleo attenboroughi, is on display at the Queensland Museum.

Sir David’s long-beaked echidna

Also known as Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna or the Cyclops long-beaked echidna, this critically endangered echidna is found in the Cyclops Mountains in the Indonesian province of Papua.

These solitary animals – they only meet with their own kind once a year to mate – are considered by locals to be a delicacy.

Hunting, as well as habitat loss, has put the species in danger of extinction, and indeed for some time it was feared the echidna may have been completely stamped out.

But in 2007 researchers found tracks and burrows thought to be those of the echidna, and communication with local people has indicated the species may have been seen as recently at 2005.

A tiny goblin spider

David Attenborough with a photograph of the prethopalpus attenboroughi spider
Sir David was presented with a photograph and a signed publication of the species. Photo: AAP

In 2012, a new species of spider found only on one island in Queensland was named after Sir David.

The goblin spider, formally known as Prethopalpus attenboroughi, is just over one millimetre in length and found only on Horn Island in the Torres Strait in Queensland.

It was discovered and described by Queensland Museum research fellow Barbara Baehr and WA Museum head of terrestrial zoology Mark Harvey.

Sir David visited Perth to be presented with a framed photograph and a signed publication of the species at the WA Museum.

A very rare butterfly

Attenborough's black-eyed satyr butterfly
Attenborough’s black-eyed satyr is only found within a 500 kilometre area. Photo: Andrew Neild/Natural History Museum/ABC

Attenborough’s black-eyed satyr, or Euptychia attenboroughi, is found only in the tropical forests of the upper Amazon basin in Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil.

Six specimens have been collected of the very rare butterfly – which is only found within a 500 kilometre area.

The researchers who discovered the butterfly acknowledged they were not the first to name a species after Sir David.

“Other animals and plants have previously been dedicated to Sir David, but it makes us happy and proud to be the first to dedicate a butterfly species in his name,” Natural History Museum entomologist Andrew Neild said.

The world’s oldest ‘mother fish’

Materpiscis attenboroughi
Materpiscis attenboroughi was found at the Gogo Formation in Western Australia. Photo: Museum Victoria

Materpiscis attenboroughi – “Attenborough’s mother fish” – is the oldest known vertebrate to give birth to live young.

The only specimen we know of was found at the Gogo Formation in Western Australia, and highlighted by Sir David in his 1979 series Life on Earth.

For that reason the “mother fish” was named after Sir David, with more than 50 species of fish having been described from the formation.

Materpiscis attenboroughi was found in 2005 with an embryo attached to its mother by an umbilical cord, meaning before the fish died it was set to become a mum – some 380 million years ago.

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