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Scientists name hairy little beetle after Chewbacca

A newly discovered beetle gets a very big name as Star Wars-fan scientists pay tribute to everyone's favorite tall, furry alien.

At least this beetle didn't appear in a Christmas special.

Matthew H. Van Dam, Raymond Laufa, Alexander Riedel

At first glance, a towering fur-covered alien and a tiny, hard-shelled beetle look like they have nothing in common. But Star Wars' Chewbacca and a newly discovered species of insect now share a name.

One of the great joys of spotting a new species is the opportunity to name it. Scientists Matthew H. Van Dam, Raymond Laufa and Alexander Riedel thoroughly geeked out when attaching a moniker to Trigonopterus chewbacca, a type of weevil beetle that barely reaches over a tenth of an inch (3 millimeters) in length.

The researchers published their Wookiee-related findings along with descriptions of three other new species in the journal ZooKeys on April 21.

The team discovered the crawly critter on an island in Papua New Guinea. Trigonopterus chewbacca doesn't look nearly as huggable or imposing as its namesake. The description of the insect will primarily make sense to zoologists, but it includes delightful phrases like "disk subglabrous," "metafemur with dorsoposterior edge markedly denticulate" and "long, erect, clavate scales bordering eye."

The weevil is in good company. There's also a wasp named "Polemistus chewbacca." Chewbacca isn't the first celebrity to earn a creature name. There's a tarantula named "A. johnnycashi." Harrison Ford, Han Solo himself, has a couple of different beasties named for him, a spider and an ant.

All of this leaves us with one big question. How did scientists see Chewbacca in a tiny beetle? Wonder no more. The researchers give us this answer: "This species has dense scales on the head and the legs, which reminds the authors of Chewbacca's dense fur."

(Via Treehugger)