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Newly Discovered Beetle Named For Greta Thunberg: Nelloptodes Gretae

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Sixteen-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has garnered worldwide fame, also a Nobel Prize nomination for her fight against the effects of climate change. Well, now that fight has also earned Greta something else - a namesake for a newly identified species of beetle.

MAX BARCLAY: It's less than a millimeter long, living in the leaf litter. They're feeding on the spores of fungi.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Max Barclay is an entomologist and senior beetle curator at the National History Museum in London. Another scientist actually found the previously neglected beetle in a collection of specimens that's been at the museum since the '70s. So this bug is really tiny. Also notable, it doesn't have any eyes or wings.

GREENE: All right. So they're calling this beetle Nelloptodes gretae in honor of the activist. The first part of that name I just said refers to this relatively new subgroup the beetle belongs to, and the second is a Latinized version of Greta. Barclay says the researcher wanted to call attention to the importance of biodiversity.

BARCLAY: I think he feels a lot of people don't realize that the world is so fantastically diverse but also so very fragile.

GREENE: The tiny beetle species is thought to live in the topsoil of tropical forests in Uganda; that's one of the habitats most threatened by climate change.

MARTIN: Barclay says the discovery of new species is a pretty common occurrence. With a beetle collection some 10 million specimens strong, the museum logs a new species about once a week. Some are only identified after they have gone extinct.

BARCLAY: All of them are doing something important. But until you lose them, you often don't know what they were doing. Some people have aliked biodiversity to a game of Jenga. You know, you take one piece out, and the whole tower falls down.

GREENE: Now, Barclay says it is pretty unusual for a species to be named after a nonscientist. Still, he thinks this honor is well-deserved.

BARCLAY: I think this is probably the first species that's been named after Greta Thunberg, probably won't be the last.

GREENE: Greta joins the ranks of other big names in environmentalism who have beetle namesakes, including Charles Darwin and David Attenborough.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "REFLECTIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.