Natural England
Printable version E-mail this to a friend

Rare species named for the first time by British public

Winners of the name a species competition announced. The British public choose common names for species with an identity crisis.

Emerging from obscurity, ten previously unnamed British species are now enjoying some long-awaited limelight as the results of the competition to give them popular names were announced on Saturday 17 July.

The Queen’s executioner, sea piglet and witches’ whiskers were previously only known as Megapenthes lugens, Arrhis phylonyx and Usnea florida, respectively. They now join the ranks of the more familiar shepherd’s purse, swallowtail and foxglove, now having popular names that describe their characteristics.

Thousands of people submitted entries in response to the Name a Species competition organised by Natural England, The Guardian and The Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The competition invited the public to give popular names to ten species of British beetle, bees, jellyfish, shrimps and lichens, all of which are endangered and all of which have until now been listed only in Latin.

The competition follows the earlier publication by Natural England of Lost life - a report that showed that 430 species have become extinct in England in the last 200 years – and the subsequent call by George Monbiot, author and Guardian comment writer, for a competition to enable the public to become more familiar with the species that we are in danger of losing.

Dr Tom Tew, Chief Scientist for Natural England, said: “This competition set out to inspire the nation, drawing attention to a handful of declining species that have, until now, been without a common name. As a result, the public have let their imagination loose to come up with some wonderful naming suggestions to help put these forgotten species on the map.”

The ten winning names announced today are:

  • Skeetle (Stenus longitarsis): A beetle that escapes predators using natural “jet skis”

  • Sea piglet (Arrhis phylonyx): A deep-sea “pseudo shrimp”

  • Queen’s executioner (Megapenthes lugens): A distinctive “clicking” beetle found only in Windsor Great Park, it feeds on the larvae of other insects

  • Blue pepper-pot beetle (Cryptocephalus punctiger): A rare leaf beetle whose larvae live in willow leaves

  • Scabious cuckoo bee (Nomada armata): A “cuckoo bee” that lays its eggs in the nests of other bees

  • Kaleidoscope jellyfish (Haliclystus auricula): A beautiful stalked jellyfish

  • St John’s jellyfish (Lucernariopsis cruxmelitensis): A tiny 1cm jellyfish, in the shape of a Maltese cross

  • Witches’ whiskers lichen (Usnea florida): A lichen with medicinal properties

  • Pixie gowns lichen (Peltigera venosa): A lichen that turns green when wet

  • Mab’s lantern (Philorhizus quadrisignatus): A very rare four spotted ground beetle

Today’s ten new species names were selected from over 3,000 entries by a panel of four judges: Tony Mitchell-Jones of Natural England, Dr George McGavin of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Matt Shardow of Buglife and George Monbiot author and Guardian columnist.

Dr Tew continued: “The continued decline of biodiversity in England is a seriously worrying issue as every species matters  from the newly named sea piglet to the more familiar hedgehog. Biodiversity is the foundation of our own existence and we cannot afford to take it for granted, which is why we are getting the issue out from under the microscope and into the limelight.”

Dr George McGavin, of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, said: “People really entered into the spirit of the competition and we had some great names to choose from.”

George Monbiot, writer and journalist from The Guardian, said “Judging this competition was both a lot of fun and very tough, as the standard was so high. Our winners have not only given us names that are practical and distinctive, they have also captured the beauty, magic and mystery of England’s wildlife. By striking a light in the public imagination, I believe these names will make a major contribution towards conserving these species.”

The newly named species – alongside their winning names - will be on display at an exhibition at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Notes to editors:

The winning entries were submitted by:

Megapenthes lugens the Queen’s executioner
Suggested by: Josh Clare
This was judged the overall best entry

Stenus longitarsis – Skeetle
Suggested by: Benjamin Waterhouse

Arrhis phylonyx – Sea piglet
Suggested by: Sasha Jovanovich

Cryptocephalus Punctiger – Blue pepper-pot beetle
Suggested by: Daisy Dalton

Nomada armata – Scabious cuckoo bee
Suggested by: Geoff Vincent

Haliclystus auricula – Kaleidoscope jellyfish
Suggested by: Sarah Mackenzie

Lucernariopsis Cruxmelitensis – St John’s jellyfish
Suggested by: (awaiting details)

Usnea florida – Witches’ whiskers lichen
Suggested by: Lisa Bassett

Peltigera venosa – Pixie gowns lichen
Suggested by: Jasmine Parkinson

Philorhizus quadrisignatus – Mab’s lantern
Suggested by: (awaiting details)

Note: due to the large number of entries received via the Guardian blog, the names and addresses of some winners are still being confirmed.

Runner-up suggestions

Stenus longitarsis
Water bullet beetle
Speedy Houdini beetle

Arrhis phylonyx
Mermaid’s hairclip
Neptune’s eyebrow shrimp

Megapenthes lugens
Windsor witch
Black Prince beetle

Cryptocephalus Punctiger
Blue-black bling beetle
Cribbage board beetle

Nomada armata
Salisbury nomad bee
Druid’s cuckoo bee

Haliclystus auricula
Fractal flower jellyfish
Mermaid’s trumpet jellyfish

Lucernariopsis Cruxmelitensis
Marmalade shred jellyfish
Maltese cross medusa

Usnea florida
Apothecary’s beard
Merlin’s beard lichen

Peltigera venosa
Ogre’s ear
Queen Mary’s ruff

Philorhizus quadrisignatus
Voodoo mask beetle
Sign of four beetle

About the Species:

The ten species are all listed on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan as priority species for conservation. In most cases, their listing on the UK BAP indicates that their population has fallen by at least 50 per cent during the past 25 years. No common name was recorded for any of these species on the BAP list, and no generally accepted English common name was thought to be in use. Natural England is asking the UK Biodiversity Partnership to adopt the new names in its official communications.

1. Skeetle or Stenus longitarsis
a type of camphor beetle that is able to escape predators using natural jet skis.

This little black beetle is no bigger than a grain of rice. It skates on top of water, spreading its legs wide and using the water's surface tension to stop it sinking.  When alarmed, this beetle releases a chemical from its back legs that reduces the water surface tension and allows it to shoot forward using its front feet like skis.  Flexing its abdomen provides steering control and the tiny beetle jets away at a speed of one metre per second!

2. Sea piglet or  Arrhis phyllonyx
a shrimp-like creature that can live in the deepest parts of our seas.

This pale orange crustacean is only 2cm long, but still has 16 legs, 4 antennae and a tail!  It can live up to 1,000 metres down and is found in the sea off the coast of Orkney and Northern Ireland.  By the time they reach maturity in their third year they have shed their shells up to 14 times and they breed only once.

3. Queen’s executioner or  Megapenthes lugens
a beetle that makes a distinctive clicking sound as it escapes from predators.

This large nocturnal black beetle grows to about 3cm long and lives on the decaying trunks of beech and elm trees.  It is thought to feed on the larvae of other beetles as well as flowers, and pupates in the autumn before overwintering as an adult inside its pupal case.  It is now so rare that it can be found at only one site in the UK.

4. Blue pepper-pot beetle or  Cryptocephalus punctiger
a case-bearing leaf beetle.  There are about 20 different species in the UK.

This tiny creature is only 2.5mm long and has a black shell with a pale blue metallic sheen.  The larvae develop in cases and emerge onto the leaves of the birch and pussy willow trees where they live.  Adult beetles can be seen during June-July but are difficult to spot because they are so small and tend to drop to the floor if disturbed.  This very rare beetle can only be found on a small handful of sites in the UK.

5. Scabious cuckoo bee or  Nomada armata
a type of cuckoo bee, so called because it lays its eggs in the nests of other bees.

This large, brownish-red coloured bee is found on chalk grasslands, where it forages on the flowers of scabious bushes. It’s a member of a group of bees that lay their eggs in the nests of other species, in this case another type of bee that gathers pollen from the same flowers. Because of the scarcity of chalk grassland in England the species is found at only a few locations, all on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire.

6. Kaleidoscope jellyfish  or  Haliclystus auricula
a beautiful stalked jellyfish that lives on the sea bed and looks a bit like coral.

This funnel-shaped jellyfish grows up to 2.5cm high and can be either grey/green or red/brown in colour.  It has eight arms tipped by clusters of up to 100 short tentacles and spends all its life underwater attached to seaweed or seagrass, where the movement of the water brings it a plentiful supply of food.  To move, it uses one of its tentacles as an anchor while it cartwheels to a new position!  This jellyfish is very sensitive to pollution and has become increasingly scarce in recent years.

7. St John’s jellyfish or  Lucernariopsis cruxmelitensis
the smallest member of a family of species known as stalked jellyfish.

This tiny creature, less than 1 cm tall, looks like an upside-down jellyfish, with its translucent bell underneath and tentacles on the top.  There are eight webbed arms within the maroon bell, with up to 35 rounded tentacles at the ends.  The stinging organs appear as distinctive white spots in the shape of a Maltese cross on the surface of the bell.  It lives on rocky shores attached to small seaweeds in places exposed to quite strong tides and currents.  Once found in high numbers on the south–west coast of England, it’s now rarely seen.

8. Witches’ whiskers lichen or Usnea florida
belongs to a group of lichens used for centuries for their medicinal properties.

This woodland plant grows like a tiny bush with delicate branches and flat spore producing discs. In the right conditions they grow up to 20cm in size, but their sensitivity to air pollution is threatening their survival.  The usnic acid it contains is a potent antibiotic and antifungal agent.  It has been used in both traditional and modern herbal medicine to heal wounds, prevent gangrene, and to treat respiratory and urinary infections.  This lichen is also edible and rich in vitamin C.

9. Pixie gowns lichen or  Peltigera venosa
a type of lichen that survives on sites with very low nutrition, such as old mines.

The most impressive physical feature of this fan shaped lichen is that the main body turns green when wet.  The spore producing organs are round and either brown or black in colour.  The secret underside of the plant contains a blue-green algae which helps it to absorb essential nitrogen from the air.  You can find this lichen in upland areas of northern England and Scotland.

10. Mab’s lantern or  Philorhizus quadrisignatus
a very rare ground beetle which has not been seen in the UK for over 20 years.

This small, brown, ground beetle has a distinctive four-spotted pattern on its wing cases. It lives in areas of broadleaved woodland and pasture woodland where it hunts amongst dead branches and twigs. It is thought to have declined significantly over the past 40 years and is now so rare it has not been identified on any of its known sites since 1987.

About Natural England

Natural England is the government’s independent advisor on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.

  • We establish and care for England’s main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.

  • We work to ensure that England’s landscapes are effectively protected, designating England’s National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Marine Conservation Zones, and advising widely on their conservation.

  • We run England’s Environmental Stewardship green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England’s farmland.

  • We fund, manage, and provide scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of England’s species and habitats.

  • We promote access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from them.

For further information:
Photographs available from Natural England’s press office: 0845 603 9953.
For further information contact: The National Press Office on 0845 603 9953, out of hours 07970 098005.  For further information about Natural England please visit:

Name a species competition results details on our website