A long time ago in a galaxy far away – actually, not too long ago in a country that is pretty far away, an international group of entomologists recently discovered a new species of hairy beetle while conducting field research in New Guinea. Based on the coloring of the beetle’s scales and the hair-like appendages covering the beetle’s legs, the team decided to name the newfound insect Trigonopterus chewbacca.
The Chewbacca beetle – unlike its Wookie namesake – is quite diminutive, growing to lengths of only a few millimeters. The beetle’s natural habit is in leaf litter or low-lying foliage, habitats which are abundant in overgrown natural areas such as those found throughout remote Papua New Guinea. Trigonopterus chewbacca is one of four new beetle species that was discovered on the same expedition. The researchers’ findings, published in the journal Zookeys, describes the etymology of the beetle’s name.
[Trigonopterus chewbacca 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.
The Chewbacca beetle joins a growing crowd of Star Wars-titled insects and animals, including the Aptostichus sarlacc spider, the Yoda purpurata acorn worm, and the Tetramorium jedi ant. While these names demonstrate that many real-world scientists are fans of science fiction, the two don’t always go hand-in-hand. Some professionals in science and technology fields feel that science fiction can water down real-world research and discoveries or mislead the general public. Others, however, think that sci-fi can be a meaningful space for imagination and inspiration for aspiring or current researchers.
Whatever the fates of either Trigonopterus chewbacca or the now Disney-owned Star Wars franchise will be, the fact that the beetle now bears the name of Han Solo’s trusty companion ensures that some small part of the Star Wars universe will be forever immortalized in the form of binomial nomenclature.