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Scientists discover gorgeous new fish species, name it after Wakanda

Published Jul 14th, 2019 1:54PM EDT

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Discovering an entirely new animal species has to be rather exciting for scientists. Not only will you go down in history as the person (or persons) that found a creature nobody even knew about, you also — in most cases — get to pick its new name.

Some scientists choose names for species based on where they were discovered or even add their own names into the mix. For the research duo of Luiz Rocha and Yi-Kai Tea, the name of a new fish species of bright purple fish they discovered off the east coast of Africa near Zanzibar was inspired by something close to their hearts: the Marvel cinematic universe.

The fish is a previously unknown species of fairy wrasse. Its bright purple appearance and its African home conjured images of the fictional material Vibranium, leading the scientists to call the new fish the Vibranium fairy wrasse. In Marvel fiction, Vibranium is found in Wakanda, and Black Panther’s suit is crafted from the material. Its scientific name is equally nerdy (in a good way): Cirrhilabrus wakanda.

As Earther explains, the fish is a lot like other fairy wrasses in that it’s tiny, feasts on floating bits of plankton, and seeks refuge coral reefs. It resides at depths of roughly between 160 and 260 feet, making it a challenge to observe for casual divers. The two researchers now credited with its discovery donned SCUBA suits and trained specifically for the chance to observe the fish in its natural habitat.

There will, of course, be varying opinions of whether scientific naming should include references to pop culture. In this case, the researchers themselves have emphasized their desire to make science more digestible (and interesting) for people who might not otherwise be drawn in by the discovery of a new fish species.

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