Alviconcha strummeri
December 21, 2014

Meet the punk rocker of sea snails, and other rock-inspired species

John Hopton for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A spiky-shelled sea snail that resides in one of the ocean’s toughest neighborhoods has been given an official punk rock image after being named for Joe Strummer, the late frontman of legendary British band The Clash.

Shannon Johnson, a researcher at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, had such success in engaging kids by referring to the aquatic creatures as "punk-rock snails" that she and her colleagues decided to name the new species Alviniconcha strummeri.

“Because they look like punk rockers in the 70s and 80s and they have purple blood and live in such an extreme environment, we decided to name one new species after a punk rock icon,” Johnson told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

The golf ball-sized mollusks live in the deep sea near thermal vents 11,500 feet under water. What’s more, "They live in hot, acidic poison, basically, so they're pretty hardcore," says Johnson on NPR. As oceanic environments go, the punk rock snail’s is comparable to the mean streets of 1970’s London, which inspired the Clash’s classic album London Calling.

Johnson adds that: “These guys are covered in bacteria,” a phrase that sounds as if it could have been uttered by a stuffy father when his daughter brought a punk rocker home. But Strummer had a softer side too, being a keen conservationist - another reason why the marine biologists thought that a Strummer tribute would be appropriate. "Not only was a he a punk-rock icon - he's kind of one of the originators of the punk movement - but he also was kind of an environmentalist," Johnson explains. "He started a foundation that was planting trees all over the world. He's a neat guy."

So deep in the ocean is the snails’ home that specimens have never survived a journey up to the surface. “Their proteins are unfolding by the time we get them up,” Johnson told the LA Times. Although the scientists are unsure exactly why the snails need all the bacteria they are covered in, it is clear that they do, and the spiky shells, which are made fragile by the extreme environment, have a greater surface area that allows more bacteria to grow.

There are quite a few creatures around the world named in honor of musical legends, including the ancient, giant lizard Barbaturex morrisoni which was named for “the lizard king” Jim Morrison of The Doors, and an Amazonian frog in the Amazon named after Ozzy Osbourne because of its shrill, bat-like call. Each member of The Ramones has donated their name to a different trilobite, and a parasitic wasp is named after Shakira because its writing movements reminded scientists of the Colombian singer’s dancing.

There is even a dinosaur named after Mark Knopfler, the frontman of radio-friendly rockers Dire Straits, who are often considered the ultimate dad’s band -meaning that Knopfler could be considered a pejorative ‘dinosaur’ himself.  But the dog-sized dinosaur Masiakasaurus knopfleri was actually named in his honor because the palaeontologists who discovered the fossil on Madagascar had been listening to a lot of Dire Straits during the dig, and in the face of any sneering the fact that he has a dollar for every year the dinosaur has been extinct will be of comfort.

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