The Sauron Butterfly Genus: A Striking New Addition to the World of Science and Conservation
In a remarkable tribute to the enduring popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy novels, a newly discovered butterfly genus, Saurona triangula, has been named after the infamous villain of The Lord of the Rings, Sauron. The genus is named after the evil ruler of Mordor in Tolkien’s fictional world of Middle earth, whose “lidless eye” is often described as being “rimmed with fire”, much like the striking orange and black markings on the wings of this butterfly. The name was chosen in a bid to raise public interest around conservation efforts for rare and threatened species.
The naming of the butterfly has generated both interest and controversy. Some have criticised the choice of name, arguing that it glorifies a fictional character who represents evil and destruction. Others have praised the choice of name for its ability to draw attention to the importance of conservation efforts.
This discovery is one of several new butterfly genera described in a paper by an international team of researchers from the University of Turku in Finland and the University of Eastern Finland and is one of two named by Dr Blanca Huertas, the Senior Curator of Butterflies at the Natural History Museum in London.
Dr Huertas says that naming the genus after a well-known fictional character helps to draw attention to this underappreciated group, bringing awareness to the declining butterfly population due to habitat loss and other threats like pesticides and climate change. Approximately three-quarters of all butterfly species in the UK are believed to be in decline, and many species worldwide face similar threats.
The Sauron butterfly genus belongs to the family Lycaenidae, which includes many other species of butterflies commonly known as blues, coppers, and hairstreaks. The discovery was made during a biodiversity survey of the forests in the Andes of South America.
In addition to Saurona, the researchers discovered several other new butterfly genera during their 10-year-long global project to assess more than 400 species of butterflies using advanced DNA analysis and other techniques.
Naming creatures after characters in Tolkien’s universe is not new. Several dozen other creatures have been given tags that recall various Tolkien characters, such as Macrostyphlus gandalf, a species of weevil; Gollum attenuatus, a bottom-dwelling shark; and the Hairy-footed Moss Forest Blossom Bat of New Guinea, also known as Syconycteris hobbit.
Despite the controversy around naming this genus, the discovery of the Sauron butterfly genus is an exciting development for the scientific community and has helped to highlight the importance of conservation efforts for rare and threatened species.
The Sauron butterfly serves as a reminder of the need to protect our planet’s biodiversity and take action to prevent the loss of endangered species and their habitats before time runs out.