SpongeBob SquarePants, the enthusiastic underwater animated character, is now commemorated in the scientific name of a fungus,Spongiforma squarepantsii. The fungus is in the Boletaceae family, and is described in a paper in press in the journal Mycologia, based on specimens collected in 2010 in Lambir Hills National Park, in Sarawak, Malaysia. The bright orange fungus smells “vaguely fruity or strongly musty”, according to its description in the journal. San Francisco State University researcher Dennis Desjardin felt that the the spore-bearing surface, when viewed with scanning electron microscopy, somewhat resembles a "seafloor covered with tube sponges", reminiscent of SpongeBob’s Bikini Bottom home.
Spongiforma squarepantsii, taken by the paper's authors
Creator Stephen Hillenburg had the idea for SpongeBob SquarePants in 1984, while he was teaching and studying marine biology at what is now the Orange County Ocean Institute.
While most organisms have more straightforwardly descriptive latin names, there is a growing list of species named after celebrities and fictional characters, according to a list produced by Mark Isaak. Cartoonist Gary Larson was celebrated in the name Strigiphilus garylarsoni, a kind of owl louse, and said: "I considered this an extreme honor. Besides, I knew no one was going to write and ask to name a new species of swan after me". Other contributors to comedy are celebrated in the names Baeturia laureli and B. hardyi (cicadas) Albunea groeningi (a sand crab) and Campsicnemius charliechaplini (a dolichopodid fly). The last was so named because of the “curious tendency of this fly to die with its midlegs in a bandy-legged position."
SpongeBob SquarePants © Nickleodeon
Musicians are commemorated in the names Funkotriplogynium iagobadius (a mite) from Iago, "James" and badius, "brown," and the followign trilobites: Milesdavis, Mackenziurus johnnyi, M. joeyi, M. deedeei and M. ceejayi (after The Ramones), Avalanchurus simoni and A. garfunkeli, Avalanchurus lennoni, A. starri and Struszia mccartneyi. Frank Zappa is name-checked as Zappa (a goby), Phialella zappai (a jellyfish), Pachygnatha zappa (an orb-weaver spider with black marking under its abdomen reminiscent of Zappa's moustache). There are also two fossil species, Amaurotoma zappa (a gastropod), Oenonites zappae (a polychaete), and the name is perhaps more appropriate for the long, and perhaps grateful, dead.
While many names are simply celebrations, some, like the moustached spider, are intended to be descriptive. For Agra schwarzeneggeri (a carabid) the name was chosen in reference to the “markedly developed (biceps-like) middle femora of the males of this species reminiscent of the actor's physique. Norasaphus monroeae (a trilobite) was named after Marilyn Monroe because “it has an hourglass-shaped glabella”. Rostropria garbo (a diapriid wasp) is so named because it is "a solitary female."
Desjardin DE, Peay KB, Bruns TD. Spongiforma squarepantsii, a new species of gasteroid bolete from Borneo" (in press). Mycologia: http://www.mycologia.org/cgi/content/abstract/10-433v1
Mark Isaak: Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature: Etymologies