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Researchers name butterfly species after "Lord of the Rings" villain Sauron

Scientists have named a butterfly genus after Sauron, the villain from the "Lord of the Rings" series, the Natural History Museum in London said Sunday.

Saurona triangula and saurona aurigera have bright orange hindwings with dark eyespots, the museum said. The distinctive wing markings reminded researchers of the "Eye of Sauron" from author J.R.R. Tolkien's book series. 

"Giving these butterflies an unusual name helps to draw attention to this underappreciated group," said Dr. Blanca Huertas, the senior curator of butterflies at the museum. "It shows that, even among a group of very similar-looking species, you can find beauty among the dullness."

According to the museum, several other species of animals are named after Sauron: a dung beetle, a frog and a dinosaur. "Lord of the Rings" has also inspired species names based off of the characters Gandalf and Gollum. As the museum explained, scientists often use names inspired by pop culture to help draw public attention.

Euptychiina butterfly  The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

The team that identified the butterflies assessed more than 400 different species of butterflies over more than a decade for their study, published in Systematic Entomology. They analyzed the butterflies not just by appearance but also via DNA sequencing. 

Researchers estimate they uncovered up to 20% more butterfly species than there were before their project started. They hope to uncover more in the future. Identifying specific types of butterflies allows for better conservation, Blaca said. 

"Some of these species are threatened with extinction, and so there's a lot to do now we can put a name to them," Blanca said. "There are also many other butterfly and insect groups that need attention so that they can be better understood and protected."

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has previously classified monarch butterflies as endangered. 

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