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UNL professor names 3 new species of beetles after dragons from ‘Game of Thrones’

December 27, 2018

Brett Ratcliffe has named more than 200 species of scarab beetles, but none as cool as his newest trio.

Ratcliffe, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln entomologist, named three of his eight newest discoveries after the dragons from the HBO series “Game of Thrones” and George R.R. Martin book series “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

Each beetle is from the genus Gymnetis with species named drogoni, rhaegali and viserioni, the Latinized versions of character Daenerys Targaryen’s three dragons, Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion.

Both drogoni and viserioni can be found in Colombia and Ecuador, while rhaegali was found only in French Guiana. Each has orange features that evoke dragon fire.

Ratcliffe said he’s a fan of the show and he likes the way the dragons were portrayed in the series. Ultimately, though, he chose the names as a way of drawing attention to biodiversity and the huge amount of undiscovered species.

“When you create names like these, you do it to gain a little bit of notoriety and bring public attention to it,” Ratcliffe said. “We’re still discovering life on Earth. One of every four living things on Earth is a beetle. We haven’t discovered them all. We’re not even close.”

The discoveries are published in a book-length technical paper called “A Monographic Revision of the Genus Gymnetis Macleay, 1819.”

Over his 50-year career, the UNL professor has named hundreds of species and had dozens named after him. It gets tricky to come up with new names.

Some of his other newly named beetles are named for features, such as Latin translations for “gold bands” and “bee eater,” or for localities, such as Puerto Rico or “northernmost.”

Rules governing the naming of species recommend against using humor or insults, Ratcliffe said. The rules are particularly helpful in preventing duplication of names.

Ratcliffe chose the dragon names with the hope that it might cause someone to think about the planet’s still unknown biodiversity.

Or at the very least, to encourage scientists to have a bit of fun.

“I’ve often thought that scientists take themselves too seriously,” Ratcliffe said, “and this is a way to circumvent that.”

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