The soldier fly, whose Latin name is Opaluma rupaul, is adorned with bold rainbow colors and is bound to catch the attention of anyone that comes across it — much like the drag icon herself.
Bryan Lessard — also known as “Bry the Fly Guy” in scientific circles — of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), is responsible for naming the species and he says there were myriad reasons why he chose the moniker.
“I’d been watching a lot of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ when I was examining the specimen under the microscope, so it was on my mind!” Lessard told Fintech Zoom. “And I really wanted to give this group of flies a memorable name because it needs the attention — the first specimen of this RuPaul fly was collected over a hundred years ago and sat neglected in a museum collection until someone with the knowledge of that group came along to name and document them.”
Many of the 13 new soldier flies Lessard named are from areas affected by Australia’s devastating 2019-2020 bushfires — which is part of the reason he wanted to give at least one of them a name no one would forget.
“These species would have burnt and no one would have cared if I hadn’t given them a name,” Lessard said.
The RuPaul fly is just one of 150 new species to be named by CSIRO recently — and it isn’t the only one to be named after a pop culture figure.
The organization has also named three newly discovered, rare beetles after characters from Pokémon — the Japanese anime series that spawned an entire franchise of video games, toys and trading cards. The beetles are named Binburrum articuno, Binburrum moltres and Binburrum zapdos after three rare Pokémon: Articuno, Moltres and Zapdos.
Lessard says part of the reason why the CSIRO is giving attention-grabbing names to insect species is to encourage greater interest amongst the public in invertebrates and to highlight the important role they play in biodiversity.
“Usually, it’s the cute and cuddly koalas that get all the attention when it comes to conservation efforts,” Lessard explained. “And the invertebrates are ignored — despite the fact they’re the essential workers of the ecosystem that pollinate native flowers and agricultural crops that are grown to give us food. If we didn’t have that service from invertebrates, the world would be a terrible place.”
Beyond inspiring greater interest in invertebrates and encouraging the next generation of entomologists and scientists to seek out new species, Lessard also hopes that naming the soldier fly after an LGBTQ+ icon like RuPaul will let young LGBTQ+ people know that there are other gay scientists out there and that there is a place for them in the world of science.
“As a gay scientist, it took me a long time to feel comfortable in my own skin in a very traditional field of science — in entomology,” Lessard said. “I think it’s really important for the next generation of LGBTQ+ scientists to know that they’re being represented in the workplace, as we give the names of legends in the community to memorable species.”