• Reconstruction by palaeoartist Peter Schouten of Microleo attenboroughi prowling along the branches of rainforest trees in search of prey. (UNSW)
The latest find from Riversleigh fossil site has been named in honour of the famed naturalist - but it's far from alone.
By
Signe Dean

25 Aug 2016 - 3:38 PM  UPDATED 25 Aug 2016 - 3:44 PM

The Riversleigh World Heritage fossil area has yielded yet another marvellous discovery - and this time researchers decided to name it in honour of the most legendary naturalist of our era, Sir David Attenborough.

He’s shown great support for the unique fossil site, which he has described as one of the four most important fossil areas in the world. But the 90-year-old broadcaster has been honoured in this way several times in his long and illustrious career - here is a list of all the species we know of that are named after Sir David.

Microleo attenboroughi marsupial lion

The discovery of the extinct and veritably tiny marsupial lion, which would have been about the size of a ringtail possum, was announced just this week. Researchers from the University of New South Wales found a fossil specimen of part of its skull and teeth, thought to be 19 million years old. They have described their find in Palaeontologia Electronica.

Acisoma attenboroughi dragonfly

Erland R. Nielsen, Nature

Also called Attenborough’s pintail, this dragonfly is found only on the island of Madagascar off the coast of the African continent. Earlier this year a team of researchers revised the genus of Acisoma, realising that instead of two species, it actually comprises six. They named the one that’s widespread across the island in honour of David Attenborough’s 90th birthday.

Blakea attenboroughii plant

World Nature Trust

Blakea is quite a large genus of plants with lovely flowers you’ll find all across Central America. The one we’re interested in is a tree found only in a small area of Ecuador, with gorgeous blue flowers. Botanist Lou Jost, who formally described this species in 2009, works with World Land Trust, and Sir David is a patron and supporter of this organisation.  

Ctenocheloides attenboroughi crustacean

Only one female specimen of this odd ghost shrimp has been found, collected in 2008 from a piece of cement rubble lying in shallow waters off the coast of Madagascar. It was described in the Journal of Natural History, and was given a whole genus of its own to reflect how different it is from presumably its closest shrimp relatives, the Ctenocheles genus.

Electrotettix attenboroughi grasshopper

Sam W. Heads, M. Jared Thomas, and Yinan Wang/CC BY 4.0

Another species that left our planet millions of years ago, this extinct pygmy locust was identified from an amber-encased specimen found in a cabinet of the Illinois Natural History Survey. The chunk of amber, thought to be over 18 million years old, was neglected in a pile of amber for over half a century, until researchers discovered the stash in 2010, proceeding to describe the new species in 2014.

Materpiscis attenboroughi fish

3D Model of Materpiscis on display at Museum Victoria

In 1979, landmark Attenborough series Life on Earth highlighted the scientific importance of Western Australia’s Gogo formation fossil sites, which, amongst other treasures, has yielded knowledge of over 50 species of fish from the Late Devonian period. In honour of that, a 2005 find was named after him. A 28-centimetre predator, it’s the oldest known vertebrate that’s known to give birth to live young.

Nepenthes attenboroughii pitcher plant

The pitchers are large enough to drown rodents, although scientists think that happens by accident.

Attenborough’s documentaries have featured carnivorous plants on more than one occasion. This critically endangered plant is endemic to the Philippines, and grows huge bell-shaped traps that can be up to two liters in volume. The fluid-filled pitchers drown and digest things like large beetles and flying insects, while also supporting mosquito larvae populations.

Prethopalpus attenboroughi spider

Another Aussie contribution to this list, this teeny tiny goblin spider is only a millimetre long, and was described in 2012. It’s found only on Horn Island off the coast of northern Queensland, and the researchers chose Attenborough’s name “because of his enthusiasm for nature and his ability to make biology accessible to generations of television viewers over six decades.”

Trigonopterus attenboroughi beetle

In 2014 Indonesian weevils experienced a major taxonomic shake-up, with 98 new species added to the Trigonopterus genus. With so many tiny bugs in need of a name, it’s no wonder that one of the flightless weevils got the honour to be Sir David’s namesake.

Zaglossus attenboroughi echidna

The enigmatic Zaglossus genus of echidnas contains two fossil species - both found only in Australia - and three extant species, all living in New Guinea and critically endangered. Of these, Sir David’s long-beaked echidna is found only in the Cyclops Mountains, and in fact has not been recorded since 1961, although a research expedition found some evidence of the species continued existence in 2007.

Attenborosaurus conybeari pliosaurid

Instead of just being a species name, the whole genus of this long-extinct, plesiosaur-like reptile is named after Sir David, while the species name comes in honour of William Conybeare, a famed 19th century English paleontologist best known for his work on marine reptile fossils. However, since there’s only one species in the genus, you often just see it referred to as Attenborosaurus.

Sirdavidia plant genus

There’s another genus that was named in honour of Sir David Attenborough - but once again it contains only one member, making it a ‘monotypic genus’ in botanist terms. Sirdavidia solannona is a 4-6 metre tall tree that grows in Gabon’s Monts de Cristal, and sports tiny red flowers. It was described just last year in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

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