Atheris hetfieldi was discovered by a team of metal-loving scientists led by Dr Luis Ceriaco. The species of African Bush Viper, which grows up to 52cm in length, lives at the base of a volcano on Bioko island in Equatorial Guinea and is characterised by “a triangular-shaped head and strongly-keeled scales, which gives them a dragon-like appearance, which certainly is consonant with the image of a singer of an Heavy Metal band.”
Atheris hetfieldi is just the latest creature to be named after a rock star. A jurassic crocodile fossil was named after Lemmy, a genus of microbes were named after prog icons Rush, while a species of extinct monster worms were christened Websteroprion after Cannibal Corpse bassist Alex Webster.
“A venomous snake who lives in the base of a volcano is very relatable to heavy metal!”
Dr Luis Ceriaco reveals why he and his team teamed named a snake after Metallica’s singer
Why did you name the snake after James Hetfield?
Both me and Mariana Marques, the second author of the paper, are big fans of Metallica and James Hetfield since a very young age. We wanted to honor him, as a thank you for all the good vibes his music has transmitted to us during all of our personal lives and careers. Also, we think that a mysterious venomous and cool looking snake, who lives in the base of a volcano lost in the middle of the tropical forest is very relatable to heavy metal! On another hand, naming a new species after someone as James brings more attention to the much needed biodiversity studies and field surveys. We are in race against the extinction of a large proportion of the world's biodiversity, and many species may go extinct before we even know they exist!
How do you actually go about naming a snake after a famous rock star? Do you have to make a case to a scientific board, or do you just go ahead and name it?
It is quite straightforward! As long as your paper is accepted in a scientific journal, after being reviewed by our scientific peers, the naming part is completely up to the author's choice. We only have to abide by certain terminological rules ruled by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. If that is followed, you can name it after anything you want - the specific habitat where the species occurs, any morphological character, a rock star, another scientist, a fictional character... anything!
What's your favourite Metallica album and song?
This is a really tough question. Favorite albums are both Master of Puppets and the Black Album, but my favorite song probably is Until it Sleeps - it was my gateway song to Metallica when I was about nine years old!