Watch: 'Fierce Looks' Earn Australian Fly Species a RuPaul-Derived Name

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday September 15, 2021
Originally published on September 15, 2021

An Australian entomologist has given the name Opaluma rupaul to a newly discovered species of soldier fly, a metallic-looking, rainbow insect he says earned the name for "serving fierce looks," UK newspaper The Guardian reports.

"The RuPaul fly is part of a new Australian genus" that is named for the Latin word meaning "opal" and "thorn," the newspaper noted, "because they look like 'little gems buzzing around the forest floor'," according to entomologist Bryan Lessard, and they also "have a distinctive thorn tucked under their abdomen."

It was "obvious" to Lessard that a tip of the microscope in RuPaul's honor was appropriate here because he said the fly "has a costume of shiny metallic rainbow colors, and it has legs for days."

"I know it would challenge RuPaul on the runway serving fierce looks," Lessard told the press.

Lessard, a scientist with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), explained how even the most flamboyant insect species can escape the spotlight, recounting how "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," CNN reports.

The newly-named species comes from "Lamington National Park in Queensland, which suffered extensive fire damage in 2019-20," Australian news outlet ABC said. The devastating brush fires that impacted much of Australia may well have wiped out some insect species before they could be identified — a fate Lessard was determined to spare the colorful Opaluma rupaul.

Noting that only a fraction of the estimated half million species unique to Australia have been identified, Lessard told ABC News that "naming a species is the first step to actually protecting them, and we don't want endangered species to sashay away into extinction."

This wasn't Lessard's first adventure in pop taxonomy, the Guardian noted. A decade ago he dubbed a newly discovered fly species Scaptia beyonceae in honor of pop diva Beyoncé. It was a choice that drew skepticism at first, but since then naming new insect species for pop stars has gained cachet; Opaluma rupaul is "one of 150 species to receive celebrity status in the past year," ABC said. Fifty such names have been bestowed by Lessard.

"There's a new wave of entomologists using pop culture to generate interest in our science and what we do, which is really exciting," Lessard noted.

The scientist added: "With bushfire recovery efforts, normally the interest goes to the cute and cuddly species like koalas, but a lot of the invertebrates don't have any attention, and they're the essential workers of our ecosystem" — an observation that brings new meaning to the exhortation You better werk!

Watch the clip from Australia's ABC News service below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.