Madonna. Beyonce. Ninja lanternshark. Some names just demand your attention. That's why the ninja lanternshark — formally known as Etmopterus benchleyi — has gone so far in so little time. Announced just over a week ago, the newly-discovered Central American species is still making waves all over the Internet.
The Guardian recently argued that scientists have been making fools of themselves with their silly naming practices. Flies named after pop stars, bah humbug! But that's a whole lot of hogwash, if you ask me: These "silly" names get the public interested in newly-discovered species, many of which are from small, threatened populations.
Vicky Vásquez, lead author of the study announcing the new species and a graduate student at the Pacific Shark Research Center in California, used the shark's official name to give a shoutout to "Jaws" author Peter Benchley. But for the common name, she turned to a panel of experts: Her four young cousins.
"They started with 'super ninja,' but I had to scale them back," Vásquez told Live Science.
We'll have to save the "super" for when the ninja lanternshark's bigger, badder cousin is discovered (which isn't out of the question, given that the new species is just about 1.5 feet long). While a formal name can either describe the animal or bestow an honorific (as long as it sounds latin-esque) a common name is supposed to be easy to say and to associate with the animal. You can't just name it after your mom and expect the scientific community to rally behind you.
That's why ninja lanternshark is such a great name: It's goofy and cool, but it's also actually quite apt. The shark's striking jet-black color is one ninja-like feature, but the creature is also quite stealthy. Like other lanternsharks, the species has light-emitting organs called photophores. These organs produce a faint glow, which the animals probably use as either some kind of cloaking device or as a means of luring prey.
“We don’t know a lot about lanternsharks. They don’t get much recognition compared to a great white,” Vásquez told Hakai Magazine. “So when it came to this shark I wanted to give it an interesting story.”
So take note, taxonomists: If you don't have a grade school think tank working on all of your species names, you're clearly missing out.