Lord of the Butterflies: New species named after Sauron of Middle Earth

The butterflies named after Sauron from Lord of the Rings don't share their namesake's aspirations to conquer Middle Earth, but the discovery is significant in its own right.

 The Eye of Sauron, the Dark Lord Sauron and the One Ring in an illustrative image for The Lord of the Rings. (photo credit: PIXABAY)
The Eye of Sauron, the Dark Lord Sauron and the One Ring in an illustrative image for The Lord of the Rings.
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

One does not simply walk into Mordor, but what about butterflies? Especially those of the Saurona genus of butterfly, newly named after the iconic dark lord of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth and the main antagonist of The Lord of the Rings.

The new genus's name was announced by the UK's National History Museum and was named by the museum's senior butterfly curator Dr. Bianca Huertas.

The butterflies themselves were recently discovered by researchers and their discovery, as well as the discovery of several other butterfly genera, were published in a study in a peer-reviewed academic journal Systematic Entomology.

One butterfly to rule them all: What is the Sauron butterfly?

The study in question discovered nine new genera of butterflies to categorize 38 new species.

Of this bounty of butterflies, two were named after the legendary dark lord: Saurona triangula and Saurona aurigera.

 The One Ring of Lord of the Rings (Illustrative) (credit: PIXABAY) The One Ring of Lord of the Rings (Illustrative) (credit: PIXABAY)

However, it is believed that many more examples of this genus are out there, yet to be discovered.

You shall not pass... without knowing why they named a butterfly after Sauron?

At first glance, one might think the butterfly genus was named after Sauron because it, too, has nefarious aspirations of conquest and devastation over the planet, masterminding epic fantasy battles and seeking to recover a piece of jewelry.

However, as far as researchers are aware, butterflies do not, in fact, share the aspirations of high fantasy antagonists. Rather, it is a far more mundane example: Eyes.

Sauron is most commonly depicted as a giant flaming eye, seeing everything. As such, large eye-like markings or patterns tend to bring to mind the eye-conic image.

Both Sauron butterflies share this trait, possessing dark eyespots on their wings. 

Now, these South American native butterflies being named after Sauron isn't too out of the ordinary. In fact, there have been many different animals, objects and phenomena named after the dark lord.

These include:

  • A dung beetle
  • A frog
  • A genus of dinosaur
  • An asteroid
  • Several nebulae
  • A galaxy
  • A star system
  • An undersea volcano
  • A spider
  • A leafhopper

And when including all the many characters from The Lord of the Rings, the list of animals, objects and phenomena named after them is even longer.

And that's not even mentioning the sheer number of other fictional characters and real-life figures that have inspired scientists to name things after them – such as the Taylor Swift millipede.

My precious...subtribe: Why is this discovery so significant?

Aside from the sheer novelty behind naming a butterfly genus after one of the most fearsome villains in fiction, the research behind it is significant in that they were able to identify a new genus at all.

All the butterflies described in the research are part of the Euptychiina subtribe. This group is incredibly diverse and widespread. However, due to a bias in research toward studying brighter and more colorful butterflies, this subtribe has gone neglected for years.

However, research has now been able to use DNA evidence to better differentiate between the different species within the subtribe. Already, the researchers managed to find several more species never identified as being distinct from others and it is likely that there are to come in the future.

Considering some of these species are likely rare and in need of conservation, finding out as much as possible is a significant concern for researchers.