One wing to rule them all: Scientists name a butterfly after Sauron

A butterfly named after Lord of the Rings villain Sauron's all-seeing eye.
(Image credit: Natural History Museum.)

The last two decades have been quite an incredible time for The Lord of the Rings, between the movies, TV series and countless spin-offs. Its omnipresence almost makes me worry there's too much of it, and the pipeline shows no signs of slowing down (in games, we'll be seeing The Lord of the Rings: Gollum at the end of this month). One new LOTR-related piece of news, however, actually brought a smile to my face.

Scientists have identified and named a new group of butterflies after Sauron, the series' villain and scourge of Middle-Earth. The name is because the insects have bright orange wings with black ring markings, which apparently reminded the experts of Sauron's all-seeing eye described in the novels and realised magnificently in the Jackson films.

The genus is called Saurona and so far two species have been added to it: Saurona triangular and Saurona aurigera. It's expected there will be many more joining them. A fellowship, perhaps? 

Dr. Blanca Huertas, senior curator of butterflies at the Natural History Museum, is part of the team that described the new genus in a paper published in the journal Systematic Entomology. Dr. Huertas reckons the name will get some attention on the creatures and inspire more research.

"Giving these butterflies an unusual name helps to draw attention to this underappreciated group," said Blanca. "It shows that, even among a group of very similar-looking species, you can find beauty among the dullness. Naming a genus is not something that happens very often, and it's even more rare to be able to name two at once. It was a great privilege to do so, and now means that we can start describing new species that we have uncovered as a result of this research."

Interestingly enough, these butterflies are not the first creatures to be named in tribute to Sauron. Other Sauron species in nature include a dinosaur, a dung beetle, and a frog, while when we get to space the nickname 'Eye of Sauron' has been applied to the Helix Nebula and the intermediate spiral Seyfert galaxy NGC 4151 (among others).

"The Eye was rimmed with fire," wrote JRR Tolkien, "but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat’s, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing."

Don't worry though: Gandalf's name has been applied to species of beetle, crab, and moth, so the butterflies aren't going to rule nature unchallenged. Poor old Gollum even has a few snails, wasps and fish named after him.

There are, believe it or not, five Lord of the Rings games due over the next two years. More widely, the most amusing LOTR story in recent times is this absolute chancer who's suing Amazon over what he claims is plagiarism of his own heavily LOTR 'inspired' novels. Seriously: Check out the balls on this guy.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."