“Taylor Swift Millipede” shakes it off in the scientific community


Nannaria swiftae by Hennen D.A., Means J.C., Marek P.E. – https://zookeys.pensoft.net/article/73485/zoom/fig/145/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=117049286

A newly discovered millipede species was promptly named Nannaria swiftae, or the Swift Twisted-Claw Millipede, after iconic singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. Entomologist Dr. Derek Hennen named the arthropod in honor of Swift’s music, which helped him through the “highs and lows of graduate school.” Dr. Hennen had hoped N. swiftae’s unique name would serve as a “thank you” to Swift. In a multi-year research project across the east coast, with fellow scientists, Jackson Means and Paul Marek, 17 additional species including the “Taylor Swift millipede” were documented. The results of their research were published in the online scientific journal Zookeys on April 15th. These specimens were previously collected in museums, but never properly identified.

Species named after celebrities are more likely to gain recognition and support for conservation efforts. In general, the more ‘charismatic’ the name, the more awareness the species will receive. 

“The name may make it easier to remember! I hope the millipede does not mind, I am pretty sure few people, except entomologists, will be aware,” said English teacher and certified Swiftie, Ms. Paulette Bowles.

Commemorating Swift’s musical achievements, the millipede was discovered at a state park in Tennessee, the state in which Swift began her music career. The Swift Twisted-Claw Millipede is a cherry millipede, which releases a chemical that smells like cherries or almonds against predators. It lives exclusively in the Appalachian Mountains, in high altitudes and forests with mild humidity. In addition, it is characterized by a warm chestnut color, and can be identified by the two orange bumps on its back. N. swiftae is vital to its ecosystem, breaking down organic matter and dead leaves.

“My favorite [song] is “Shake it Off” and if I find a millipede — I would try to shake it off,” said Ms. Bowles. 

Animals named after celebrities are not uncommon, with notable examples include Aleioades shakirae, a parasitic wasp named after Shakira, and Kakaia gaga, a treehopper named after Lady Gaga. Former President Barack Obama had the extinct dinosaur species “Obamadon” named in his honor. Dr. Hennen would name one last millipede, Nannaria marianae, after his wife.