Guest blog post: New tardigrade species honours Eurovision Song Contest winner

Alexander Rybak. Photo by NRK P3 under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.
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guest blog post by Matteo Vecchi

One of the main threats to biodiversity conservation is not recognizing the uniqueness of species – without a formal name, a species cannot be protected properly. Tardigrades – microorganisms also known as water bears or moss piglets – are no exception. When we were faced with two new species, we took the chance to describe them and add a small piece of information to the biodiversity of those tiny animals.

Thanks to the generosity of my research group principal investigator (Sara Calhim) and the second author’s (Daniel Stec) academic supervisor (Lukasz Michalczyk), who made available to us their spaces and instrumentations, we were able to give a formal name and description to two marvelous tardigrade species.

Macrobiotus annewintersae (top) and the eggs of M. Annewintersae (left) and M. Rybaki (right) Photos by Matteo Vecchi, Daniel Stec

When describing species, researchers have almost complete freedom to express their creativity or gratitude in bestowing them with names. We decided to honour two people: Dr. Anne Winters, who collected the sample where one of the new species – Macrobiotus annewintersae, was found, and the singer Alexander Rybak  with Macrobiotus rybaki.

While routinely examining samples for tardigrades, we stumbled upon tardigrade eggs that didn’t look like any described species. Macrobiotus annewintersae eggs have many conic projections on their surface (called processes) that are topped by about 6 small and stubby tentacles, whereas the processes of Macrobiotus rybaki look like spikes topped with a very tiny dish.

The choice to dedicate the new species to Alexander Rybak is the fruit of our (mine and Daniel’s) passion for the Eurovision Song Contest. We are both fans of this very popular, diverse and cheerful song contest, and we wanted to honour it with a reference to one of its most iconic winners. Rybak’s song Fairytale, which won the 2009 edition, is immediately recognized by any Eurovision Song Contest enthusiast. Our research article, where we describe the two newly found tardigrades,was published in the open-access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution on 19 May, right in the middle of the semi-finals for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

This is not the first instance that a tardigrade species is named after a singer. One species, Barbaria madonnae, was named in 2006 after the singer and performer Madonna.

We hope that naming tardigrade species after popular singers and artists will help popularize them and bring the broad public attention to their conservation.

Original source:

Vecchi M, Stec D (2021) Integrative descriptions of two new Macrobiotus species (Tardigrada, Eutardigrada, Macrobiotidae) from Mississippi (USA) and Crete (Greece). Zoosystematics and Evolution 97(1): 281-306.

Editor’s note: The image of Alexander Rybak posted here is credited to NRK P3 under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence.