Harry Potter character provides name for new species of crab

A species of crab that managed to elude capture for 20 years after it was first identified from remains has become the latest real-life creature to be named after a Harry Potter character. Harryplax severus takes its name from Harry’s notorious teacher Severus Snape, who managed to keep the secret that he was a double agent working for Hogwarts headmaster Professor Dumbledore until he died.

Discovered 20 years ago in Guam by collector Harry Conley, who was digging in rubble fields at low tide, biologists have only now identified it as a new species. It was Conley’s first name, rather than the beloved boy wizard’s, that provided the genus name – in honour of his prolific rummaging for crustaceans, deep in the Micronesian island’s mud.

Writing in Zoekeys, Jose Mendoza and Peter Ng said they had named the new species severus as an allusion to the notorious and misunderstood potions master “for his ability to keep one of the most important secrets in the story”.

Notice the claw-like hands … Alan Rickman as Severus Snape in the film of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
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Notice the claw-like hands … Alan Rickman as Severus Snape in the film of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Photograph: Allstar/Warner Bros

Snape joins a line of Harry Potter characters whose names have been co-opted by scientists. Last year, Rowling was reported to be “honoured” after a new species of spider was named Eriovixia gryffindori after the wizard Godric Gryffindor, one of the founders of Hogwarts. Writing about their find in the Indian Journal of Arachnology, biologists Javed Ahmed, Sumukha JN and Rajashree Khalap said the brown spider’s name reflected its appearance, which resembles the “fabulous, sentient magical artefact, the sorting hat, owned by the (fictitious) medieval wizard”.

The oldest creature named after a former Hogwarts resident is Dracorex hogwartsia, a 66m-year-old dinosaur housed in the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. In 2006, Rowling agreed to the new member of the pachycephalosaur family being given a Harry Potter character’s name because her two children were huge dinosaur fans. Speaking at the time, the author said: “The naming … is easily the most unexpected honour to have come my way.”

Rowling’s characters are not the only ones to lend a literary edge to scientific discoveries. Both Michael Crichton and Arthur C Clarke have dinosaurs named after them – the Crichtonsaurus and the Serendipaceratops arthurcclarkei. Author Amy Tan, whose bestsellers include The Bonesetter’s Daughter and The Joy Luck Club, provided a name for a newly discovered Australian leech, Chtonobdella tanae, because of her support for the American Museum of Natural History. The author responded: “This humble leech has looped across a new scientific threshold – the first microscopic soft-bodied critter to be described, inside and out, using CT scanning. Imagine the possibilities for identifying legions of tiny organisms that have thus far lived in obscurity,” she said.

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