New butterfly genus named after evil Lord Sauron

Posted on 9 May 2023 By Tsoku Maela

A team of international researchers has discovered a new genus of butterflies with distinctive orange wings and dark eyespots. The genus has been named Saurona after Sauron, the evil lord of Mordor in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The eyelike markings on the two species that make up the genus, Saurona triangula and Saurona aurigera, are vivid orange and jet black. While they are unlikely to invoke the same level of terror as the cruel ruler of Mordor, their discovery and naming are significant, say scientists.

Saurona triangula, named after Sauron, the lord of Mordor. Photograph: B Huertas (c) Trustees Natural History Museum

Blanca Huertas of the Natural History Museum in London, who is part of the team of researchers, said that by giving the butterflies unusual names, they can draw attention to the decline of butterfly populations worldwide. ‘Butterflies are under enormous pressure from habitat loss, and we desperately need to identify and study new species before time runs out for them,’ she added.

The global project to identify new butterfly species took more than a decade and involved advanced DNA analysis and other techniques to assess more than 400 species of butterflies. The project has provided scientists with a new understanding of butterflies, particularly the sub-tribe known as Euptychiina. At present, only two species of the Saurona genus have been discovered, but researchers believe that many more species exist in the wild.

‘Naming them after key fictional characters helps to pique people’s interest in them, and that is important for their conservation,’ said Huertas. The use of Tolkien characters in scientific labels is now common practice in science. Several dozen creatures, including a dung beetle, a frog and a dinosaur, have been named after the ruler of Mordor or other Tolkien characters.

However, butterflies are facing a significant threat. In the UK, three-quarters of butterfly species are believed to be in decline, while populations worldwide are threatened by habitat destruction, pesticides, and climate change. The discovery of the new genus of the butterfly and its naming after a fictional character highlights the importance of studying and conserving these delicate creatures.

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