New species of Malaysian water beetle named after Leonardo DiCaprio

A new species of water beetle has been named after actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio.

Citizen scientists have named a newly discovered species of water beetle after Leonardo DiCaprio in recognition of the Hollywood actor’s support of environmental causes.

Grouvellinus leonardodicaprioi was discovered during an expedition to a remote tract of rainforest in Sabah’s Maliau Basin, in the heart of Malaysian Borneo. The trip was organized by Taxon Expeditions, which sets up field surveys for budding citizen scientists.

Leonardo Dicaprio’s water beetle Grouvellinus leonardodicaprioi. Courtesy of Freitag et al. (2018)

Taxon Expeditions, which specifically plans trips to help “untrained laypeople” use scientific approaches to find species that haven’t yet been described scientifically, says the expedition participants and staffers from the Maliau Basin Studies Center chose to name the water beetle after DiCaprio in honor of the 20th anniversary of the founding of his eponymous charity, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which has a strong environmental focus and has given out more than $80 million to conservationists, indigenous rights advocates, and green activist groups.

“Tiny and black, this new beetle may not win any Oscars for charisma, but in biodiversity conservation, every creature counts,” said Taxon Expeditions’ founder and entomologist Dr. Iva Njunjić, in a press release.

Grouvellinus leonardodicaprioi, which is described in the current issue of the open access journal ZooKeys, was one of three water beetles discovered at a waterfall in Maliau.

Maliau is one of the three areas that make up the Danum Valley – Maliau Basin – Imbak Canyon (DaMaI) complex of wildlife-rich forests. Dicaprio’s foundation recently moved to support conservation efforts in DaMaI via a grant to Global Conservation, a California-based non-profit that is working with local rangers and the Sabah state government to implement technologies to protect wildlife and forests. DaMaI is home to endangered orangutans, pygmy elephants, and clouded leopards.

Waterfall in Maliau Basin, Sabah, Malaysia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Naming a newly discovered species after a notable person is a popular trend in taxonomy. For example, Dicaprio already has a “smiley-faced” spider named after him. And last year, scientists made headlines when they named a moth after Donald Trump. Neopalpa donaldtrumpi is noted for its shock of blonde hair-like scales and small genitalia.

Some scientists and conservation groups are using species-naming to raise funds for conservation.

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Freitag H, Pangantihon CV, Njunjić I (2018) Three new species of Grouvellinus Champion, 1923 from Maliau Basin, Sabah, Borneo, discovered by citizen scientists during the first Taxon Expedition (Insecta, Coleoptera, Elmidae). ZooKeys 5: e21947.

Disclosure: Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler is on the advisory board of Global Conservation. The Leonardo Dicaprio Foundation is a Mongabay donor, but has no editorial influence on Mongabay’s content.