Harryplax severus, as the crab has been dubbed, was actually discovered nearly 20 years ago by a naturalist named Harry Conley, a retired marine. Conley spent much of his time diving off of the coast of Guam collecting specimens. It was there he came across the small, beady-eyed crustacean in coral rubble in 1998.
When he died in the early 2000s, his collections were passed off to fellow researcher and biologist Gustav Paulay, who eventually gave them to a biologist and crab taxonomy expert at the National University of Singapore, Peter Ng. It wasn’t until many years later that Ng and his colleague Jose Mendoza realized the pale yellow crab had not been identified as a new genus and species.
That’s where the new name comes in, which has multiple meanings laid out in a report authored by Ng and Mendoza.
The biologists wanted to honor Conley’s “uncanny ability to collect rare and interesting creatures as if by magic.” Mendoza, a self-described “Potterhead,” had the idea to pay homage to “Harry Potter.” So the first part of the name is a nod to both Harry Conley’s skills and the magical wizard at the center of the book series.
Conley also had a reputation for hand-digging holes during his searches. “Severus,” which means “rigorous” in Latin, honors the “laborious process by which this crab was collected.” It also alludes to the “Harry Potter” character Severus Snape, a professor at the enchanted Hogwarts school who kept a major secret throughout the series. Ng and Mendoza wrote in their report that Snape is “a notorious and misunderstood character ... just like the present new species which has eluded discovery until now, nearly 20 years after it was first collected.”
Harryplax severus is minuscule in size — just about 0.3 by 0.2 inches according to the report — and lives in deep coral rubble.
This isn’t the first new species to get its name from “Harry Potter.” In 2015, a new spider species was named Eriovixia gryffindori, after the owner of the famous Hogwarts sorting hat to which it bears a resemblance.