The Deep Sea Creature That Was Named After Metallica

Per the BBC, an estimated 17,000 to 24,000 animal species are discovered each year. One of the cool things about discovering a previously unknown species is getting to name said species. Since naming the animal after one's self is apparently considered "the height of arrogance, undermining any honor in having a scientific name remembering them into posterity," according to Dr. Ellinor Michel of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, scientists generally take the opportunity to honor someone else. In the case of deep-sea scientist Dr. Torben Riehl of Ghent University in Belgium, he decided to honor metal icons Metallica.

The name is not just a salute to the speed metal pioneers who gave the world several pop hits like "Enter Sandman" and "Nothing Else Matters," although Dr. Riehl has been a big fan since adolescence, according to CNET. The newly discovered species, Macrostylis metallicola, is a small eyeless crustacean, less than half an inch long, that lives 13,500 feet under water. Its habitat exists in "absolute darkness under extreme pressures in heavy manganese nodules," meaning the creature is reliant on metal in order to live. 

Honoring both Metallica and ocean biodiversity

According to a press release from the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, Dr. Riehl and his colleague Dr. Bart de Smet chose the name not just as a tribute to Metallica, nor as a play on words regarding the species' metallic habitat. They discovered Macrostylis metallicola  in the abyss of the Northern Pacific Ocean in the Clarion Clipperton Zone, which sits between Hawaii and Mexico, while conducting studies as part of a larger environmental impact assessment. The manganese nodules on which the crustacean lives "contain valuable compounds, such as cobalt, copper, manganese, nickel and rare-earth elements," which means the ocean floor could be mined to access the minerals, which are needed to create in-demand metals used as a result of "population growth, urbanization and clean-energy technology." 

Dr. Riehl notes that many people aren't aware of the biodiversity found in the deepest parts of the ocean. The life there is part of the ocean's food webs as well as larger systems that feed into climate control. Dr. Riehl hopes that even if this kind of mining has to happen, it will be done in a way that prioritizes sustainability while implementing good management and protections for vulnerable areas in order to "conserve biodiversity and ecosystem functioning." There's also the possibility that his tribute to Metallica raises the public's awareness of these environmental issues. Here's hoping.