Shannon Johnson, a researcher at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, found that when she talked to youngsters about sea snails, she communicated a little more effectively if she skipped the technical description and called them “punk-rock snails.”
“Their entire shells are covered in spikes,” Johnson explains. “And then the spikes are actually all covered in fuzzy white bacteria.”
These punk rock snails live thousands of feet underwater, crowded around the mouths of chimneys of hydrothermal vents — the kind of place that might survive the apocalyptic “nuclear error” in the Clash album London Calling.
“They live in hot, acidic poison, basically, so they’re pretty hardcore,” she says.
Since Johnson had such success in calling the spiky, acid-loving mollusks punk-rock snails, she and her colleagues decided to name them Alviniconcha strummeri, after the late Joe Strummer, frontman for the Clash.
“Not only was a he a punk-rock icon — he’s kind of one of the originators of the punk movement — but he also was kind of an environmentalist,” she says. “He started a foundation that was planting trees all over the world. He’s a neat guy.”
Strummer is not the only big name with his own namesake animal. A wooly lemur from Madagascar is named after John Cleese — the Avahi cleesei. A frog in the Amazon that makes a shrill, bat-like call is named after Ozzy Osbourne.
The Ramones each have their own trilobite, and there’s a parasitic wasp named after Shakira. The scientists who discovered the wasp say it causes the caterpillar it inhabits to wriggle and writhe, which reminds them of Shakira’s energetic dancing.