J.R.R. Tolkien’s magical “The Lord of the Rings” universe includes hobbits, elves, wizards, and now, a new genus of butterflies called Saurona after the dark lord Sauron.
“Naming a genus is not something that happens very often,” said Blanca Huertas, a senior curator of butterflies at the Natural History Museum in London, in a release from the museum that announced the new name on Sunday.
–Natural History Museum (@NHM_London) May 7, 2023
So far, Huertas has identified two species of the new genus: Saurona triangula and Saurona aurigera, both of which live in the southwestern Amazon rainforest — one of the richest concentrations of butterfly species in the world.
Part of the iconic nomenclature is the butterfly’s look. Huertas said she was inspired by the butterfly’s eye-like patterns, which she thought resembled Sauron’s fiery red and black eye. It was also meant to spark interest in conservation and encourage people to take action.
“Giving these butterflies an unusual name helps to draw attention to this underappreciated group,” Huertas said.
But in an article from The Washington Post, Huertas drew other connections to “The Lord of the Rings” that suggest there may be additional reasons behind the butterfly’s name.
This study was ‘a lot of strain looking at me like Sauron’
The genus Saurona is part of a larger subtribe of butterflies called Euptychiina, which are all known for being relatively small and brown, so they’re difficult to differentiate from one another, which makes them one of the most complex butterfly groups in the American tropics to study.
It took Huertas and a team of researchers about ten years to analyze over 400 different species in the Natural History Museum of London’s collection of more than 5. 5 million butterfly specimens. The team published their results earlier this year in the journal Systematic Entomology.
For Huertas, the effort was like her own personal Eye of Sauron.
She told the Post she began studying the butterflies 15 years ago for her doctoral thesis but only had time to complete the research recently. “Ten years dealing with this study is a lot of strain looking at me like Sauron,” she told the Post.
Studying various species of butterflies is important for understanding the issues that they face, the museum said, such as air pollution, climate change, and habitat loss. Last year, half of all British butterflies were placed on the UK Red List for concerns over extinction.
Huertas also sees a parallel between the struggle to prevent the extinction of rare species and the epic battle of good and evil in “The Lord of the Rings”. She told The Post that the world needed an “army” to get involved and “get worried about nature”.
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