Saurona Triangula

Saurona Triangula

© B. Huertas, The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

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Fly you fools: New group of butterflies named after Lord of the Rings villain Sauron

Scientists naming a new genus of butterflies have paid homage to Lord of the Rings villain Sauron.

Scientists, including Dr Blanca Huertas PhD, Senior Curator of Butterflies at the Natural History Museum, have paid homage to an eye-conic villain from the Lord of the Rings in the naming of a new genus of butterflies.

When a group of butterflies with bright orange hindwings and dark eyespots needed redescribing, it immediately evoked images of the fiery eye of Sauron for the researchers. They wasted no time in honouring the work of J.R.R. Tolkien in the name of a new genus, Saurona.  

While there are currently only two members of this precious new genus – Saurona triangula and Saurona aurigera – many more as-yet-undescribed species are thought to exist.

Saurona is one of several new butterfly genera described by an international team of researchers in a new paper, and one of two named by Dr Blanca Huertas. 

Dr Blanca Huertas and a fellow researcher named the second genus Argenteria, which translates into English as silver mine, on account of the silver scales on the wings.

Dr Blanca Huertas said: 'Naming a genus is not something that happens very often, and it's even more rare to be able to name two at once. It was a great privilege to do so, and now means that we can start describing new species that we have uncovered as a result of this research.' 

The wider paper was a culmination of a decade’s worth of work to study the butterfly subtribe Euptychiina, carried out by a team of 30 scientists collaborating across the globe, including researchers from Natural History Museum London, Harvard University, Florida Museum of Natural History, and Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig. 

Scientists assessed more than 400 different species, with The Natural History Museum's butterfly collections of more than 5.5 million butterfly specimens were invaluable to the study.  

Advances in DNA sequencing mean that researchers could identify similar-looking species not only by their appearance, but also by their genetics, using techniques such as target enrichment and Sanger sequencing. 

Naming animals after a fictional character can be an important way of piquing other’s interest in them. 

'Giving these butterflies an unusual name helps to draw attention to this underappreciated group,' Dr Blanca Huertas says. 'It shows that, even among a group of very similar-looking species, you can find beauty among the dullness.'

This interest can in turn yield research with important findings, including whether species are endemic to an area, or vulnerable to extinction.  

While Saurona triangula and Saurona aurigera are the first butterflies named after Sauron, they're not the only ones to bear the character's name. A dung beetle, a frog and even a dinosaur have been named after the villain, similarly in reference to his eponymous eye.

The study Combining target enrichment and Sanger sequencing data to clarify the systematics of the diverse Neotropical butterfly subtribe Euptychiina (Nymphalidae, Satyrinae) was published in the journal Systematic Entomology.  


Notes to editors

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Images and press release are available to download here: Press Pack

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