The Crustacean Species That's Named After Jimmy Buffett

While Jimmy Buffett may not have been the only super-rich singer-songwriter with a legion of fans who parlayed their musical success into a big business, he's in a much smaller demographic who've been honored by having a new animal species named after them. In the summer of 2023, an international group of marine biologists that included researchers from the University of Miami in Florida discovered a 3-millimeter-long crustacean in the Florida Keys, according to the University of Miami.

"Upon examination, it was determined to be a species that was previously unknown to science," University of Miami research professor Paul Sikkel, who headed up the team, said in the news release. "It's the first new Florida gnathiid to be discovered in 100 years." Buffett, after hearing the team named the sea creature after him, took to social media to celebrate in July 2023. "Gnathia jimmybuffetti' — has a nice ring to it," he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Jimmy Buffett, who died on September 1, 2023, has been linked with the Florida Keys since the 1970s, while his music — most famously his hit song "Margaritaville" — celebrated the tropical lifestyle. Parrotheads, the name for his loyal fan base, embrace the breezy, boozy, laid-back vibe Buffett's music imbues, full of images of palm trees, calm seas, and good times. 

Sikkel was one of those fans. He told The Washington Post, "I'm a scientist professionally, but I really love the arts, especially music. I grew up as sort of a music junkie ... so I really love opportunities to sort of bring the two together."

Found in the Florida Keys

Sikkel told The Washington Post that he first realized he wanted to name a creature for Buffett in 2015 while he was fishing in the Florida Keys. He'd been a fan for decades. Then in 2021 he and his team were on a gnathiidae gathering mission on Long Key Island, using lights at night to attract the tiny organisms when they found a new variation that had yet to be scientifically recorded.

The tiny crustacean is a type of gnathiid isopod and has distinctive physical and biological characteristics from the other 14 members of the genus, per the University of Miami and the team's research paper in the Bulletin of Marine Science. During its juvenile stage, the minuscule creature feeds off the blood of fish at night, like a mosquito, while the adults no longer feed, but live in the nooks and crannies on the ocean floor. It's considered a parasite. 

Sikkel and the other University of Miami researchers were big Buffett fans and didn't mean any disrespect by naming the parasite after Buffett. "By naming a species after an artist, we want to promote the integration of the arts and sciences," Sikkel said in the news release. "All species in an ecosystem play an important role and all species have something to teach us. As we discover new species, we are reminded of how many undiscovered species there still are."

According to LifeGate Daily, about 200 new species are discovered in any given year. Normally whoever finds the creature gets to name it, so scientists have had some fun with naming newly found critters. 

Naming creatures for musicians

According to The Washington Post, a lot of times newly discovered species are named for an area where they are found or specific physical features, but Sikkel's choice of naming the crustacean for Jimmy Buffett was apropos to many. "When people from my generation think of the Florida Keys, they automatically think of Jimmy Buffett," he said. The team has also named a related species after Bob Marley called Gnathia marleyi. He has sites on finding other species he wants to name for artists like Eddie Van Halen, Henry Kapono, and Jerry Garcia.

Besides Buffett and Marley, other musicians have been similarly honored, including Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead — Lemmysuchus, an ancient crocodile — and Joe Strummer from the Clash, Alviconcha strummeri (a deep sea snail). There is also a spider named for Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickenson called Extraordinarius bruceickinsoni. 

Sikkel said he likes the merging of popular musicans' names with scientific discovery. In a way, he says naming species for established artists helps piggyback interest and knowledge about the world around us. He told The Washington Post, "Artists, in general, are great at presenting things and exposing people to things because that's what they do. And scientists aren't as good at that. But by joining forces with the artists, we can help spread the word about the science and how cool it is."