Tiny new beetle named after Chewbacca

But why did the bitty bug remind its finders of Han Solo’s Wookiee co-pilot?

It’s teeny, black and rife with scales. The newly discovered, rhomboid-shaped weevil beetle found in New Britain, Papua New Guinea is hardly a doppelganger for the tall hirsute resistance fighter from the planet Kashyyyk. But hey, if you’re a scientist and find a new species, you get naming rights. And thus, meet Trigonopterus chewbacca!

Chewbacca beetleDr Alexander Riedel/CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Scientists Dr. Matthew H. Van Dam from the SNSB-Zoological State Collection in Germany, along with Raymond Laufa from The University of Papua New Guinea and Dr. Alexander Riedel from the Natural History Museum Karlsruhe have described the new species in a paper published in the open access journal ZooKeys. The newly discovered beetle, a flightless weevil, was one of four new black weevils found during an expedition to New Britain, Papua New Guinea.

So why the name? It’s not based on stature, the little guys only measures between 2.78 and 3.13 mm. Warrior attributes were not noted, no mention of smuggling tendencies, and clearly no waves of flowing locks. One would imagine a critter earning the Chewie designation to be more along the lines of the puss (or flannel moth) caterpillar.

Stinging caterpillar© Andreas Kay/flickr

But according to the paper:

This epithet is a noun in apposition and based on the likeable fictional character Chewbacca in George Lucas’ Star Wars movies, portrayed primarily by Peter Mayhew. This species has dense scales on the head and the legs, which reminds the authors of Chewbacca’s dense fur.

So there you have it. I’m guessing there might be a Star Wars fan or two among the scientists?

The authors note that they presume there are many other new species to be found on the island. But maddeningly, "large expanses of low-elevation forests in New Britain have been converted to oil-palm plantations, highlighting the significance of documenting the insect fauna before the remaining forests are gone."

Well we've got Trigonopterus chewbacca, now where's the Jedi when you need them?

Tags: Insects

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