Researchers Paid Homage To ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ Villain In The Name Of A Group Of Butterflies

Butterflies are majestic creatures. They’re often associated with good things, dreamlike fantasies or fairytales.

Fantasies are understandable, but what about an epic fantasy that deals with world-threatening forces?

Sauron is the villain of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In fiction, he’s seen as wholly evil. Now, in reality, he’s become a beautiful butterfly.

A new group of butterflies is called Saurona– named after the famous villain because they sport bright orange hindwings and dark eyespots.


Researchers published a study in the Systematic Entomology journal where they identified several new butterfly genera, including Saurona.

In hopes of bringing attention to the oft-ignored butterflies, the researchers chose a pop culture name.

The new group of butterflies only has two members so far – Saurona triangula and Saurona aurigera.

In the study’s etymology section of the Saurona group, researchers acknowledge that the name is based on that of the main antagonist of The Lord of the Rings. They further added, “The name alludes to the distinctive fused orange rings that encircle the VHW ocelli… We treat it as a feminine noun in the nominative singular.”

PHOTO: Systematic Entomology/Combining target enrichment and Sanger sequencing data to clarify the systematics of the diverse Neotropical butterfly subtribe Euptychiina (Nymphalidae, Satyrinae)/Espeland, Marianne, et al.

Figure 14 of the study. Saurona triangula comb.n. (a) male wing venation—stippled area on FW shows dorsal androconial scales around vein M2 and ventral androconial scales around vein 2A, androconial hair-like scales at anterior edge discal cell are also indicated; (b and c) male dorsal (b) and ventral (c); (d and e) female dorsal (d) and ventral (e). Scale bars 1 cm.

“Giving these butterflies an unusual name helps to draw attention to this underappreciated group. It shows that, even among a group of very similar-looking species, you can find beauty among the dullness,” said one of the authors, Blanca Huertas.

Huertas also said that it’s important to study groups like Euptychiina, a diverse group occurring throughout Central and South America that’s been challenging researchers because of things such as their dull coloration, variation, and lack of clear identifiable characteristics.

“It’s important to study groups like the Euptychiina because it reveals that there are many species we didn’t know about, including rare and endemic ones. Some of these species are threatened with extinction, and so there’s a lot to do now we can put a name to them,” said Huertas.

As peculiar as the Saurona butterfly’s name is, this isn’t the first scientific find that got its name from this Lord of the Rings villain. Read about the ancient underwater volcano named after the Eye of Sauron here.

Watch the video below for a quick review of the Saurona butterfly.

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