10 Real-Life "Celebrity-Saurs"

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10 Real-Life Prehistoric Animals Named After Celebrities

Mick Jagger
Neville Hopwood/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

If you want to get your dinosaur (or other prehistoric discovery) noticed by the press and public, it helps to name it after a celebrity, living, dead, or even fictional. Here's a selection of 10 creatures that were christened with newspaper headlines, and the affection of devoted fan bases, in mind.

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Gagadon (Lady Gaga)

Leptomeryx, a close relative of Gagadon (Nobu Tamura).

Naturalists must really enjoy listening to Lady Gaga: not only has this mega-popstar been honored with an entire genus of fern (Gaga) and a species of wasp (Aleoides gaga), but now she has been attached to a small, hoofed mammal that lived over 50 million years ago. Gagadon minimonstrum (the "Lady Gaga-toothed mini-monster") was blessed with a unique dental structure, which enabled it to feast on the tough, tasty grasses of early Eocene North America.

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Leviathan (Herman Melville)

Leviathan (C. Letenneur).

We don't know if the prehistoric whale Leviathan was white, but it seems especially apt that this enormous cetacean was named in honor of Herman Melville, the author of Moby-Dick. Leviathan melvillei measured about 50 feet from head to tail and weighed in the neighborhood of 50 tons; twelve million years ago, there were no human-manned sailing ships to ram the sides of, but this giant whale may well have crossed paths with the equally ginormous shark Megalodon.  

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Masiakasaurus (Mark Knopfler)

Masiakasaurus (Wikimedia Commons).

Do you think former Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler is proud to have his name attached to Masiakasaurus knopfleri? On the one hand, this late Cretaceous dinosaur was characterized by its sharp, protruding, comical-looking teeth, which made it seem badly in need of a visit to the orthodontist. On the other hand, Masiakasaurus wasn't actually named in reference to Knopfler's teeth, but only because the supervising paleontologist happened to be grooving to Dire Straits at the time of its discovery.

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Effigia (Georgia O'Keeffe)

Sillosuchus, to which Effigia was closely related (Wikimedia Commons).

Georgia O'Keeffe was in the full flower of her artistic career when the American paleontologist Edwin Colbert discovered a strange, dinosaur-like fossil in New Mexico's Ghost Ranch quarry. But it wasn't until 50 years later, after both Colbert and O'Keeffe had passed on, that Sterling Nesbitt attached the species name okeeffaea to Colbert's discovery (after all, O'Keeffe spent all of her productive life in the American southwest, where Effigia had prospered over 200 million years before).

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Obamadon (Barack Obama)

Obamadon (Wikimedia Commons).

When Obamadon was announced to the world, a couple of years ago, media outlets mistakenly assumed that it was a fearsome dinosaur befitting the most powerful man in the western hemisphere. In fact, though, the "Obama tooth" was a tiny lizard that skittered beneath the feet of much bigger raptors and tyrannosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period. An insult? Not at all, says paleontologist Nicholas Longrich: Barack Obama had recently been elected president, and he simply wanted to commemorate the historical event.  

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Tianchisaurus (The Cast of Jurassic Park)

Tianchisaurus (Wikimedia Commons).

Tianchisaurus, the "heavenly pool lizard," bears a species name so unpronounceable that it seems to have been crafted as a joke: nedegoapeferima. In fact, though, this jumbled-looking string of syllables honors the original cast of Jurassic Park: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello. As such, this middle Jurassic ankylosaur seems more fitting of inclusion on this list than another armored dinosaur, Crichtonsaurus, honoring Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton.

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Barbaturex (Jim Morrison)

Barbaturex (Wikimedia Commons).

Jim Morrison, the frontman of The Doors, liked to style himself as the "Lizard King." But were he alive today, and lucid enough to pay attention, Morrison might be disappointed to learn that his name has been attached to a 20-pound, late Eocene lizard rather than a romping, stomping dinosaur. It's not quite clear why Barbaturex (Greek for "bearded king") was named after the usually beardless Morrison, but its announcement did generate copious headlines, which may have been the point in the first place.

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Maotherium (Mao Zhedong)

Maotherium (Wikimedia Commons).

If Maotherium had been discovered in the 1960's, rather than in 2003, you can bet that it would not have been named after the supreme leader of the People's Republic of China. Perhaps it's a sign of China's relative liberalization that this small, quivering Mesozoic mammal, which spent most of its life high up in the branches of trees, represents Mao Zhedong in the fossil record; or perhaps, like Obamadon (above), its discoverer simply wanted to pay tribute to a powerful leader without making too blunt of a political statement.

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Aegrotocatellus (Mick Jagger)

A typical trilobite (Wikimedia Commons).

Never heard of the ancient trilobite Aegrotocatellus? Join the club. Have you heard, perhaps, of a moderately famous rock musician named Mick Jagger? Okay, you can stop nodding. As with many of the entries on this list, it's unclear if Aegrotocatellus jaggeri was erected as a joke (Jagger is so old, in rock-and-roll terms, that he might as well be a trilobite himself) or if the responsible paleontologist was simply a diehard Rolling Stones fan. A clue may lie in another species, A. nankerphelgeorum, after Nanker Phelge, a pseudonym the Stones use on tour.

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Sauroniops (Sauron, the Dark Wizard)

Sauroniops (Emiliano Troco).

Okay, maybe Sauron isn't really a genuine person, and you never do catch a glimpse of him in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (just that big, revolving eye on top of the fearsome tower). But it is kind of cool that there's a two-ton, middle Cretaceous dinosaur named Sauroniops, "Sauron's Eye," even if it's represented in the fossil record by a single skull fragment and nothing else. Does Frodo have a dinosaur named after him? Does Gandalf, or Aragorn? We rest our case.