Planet Earth

Stupid Science Word of the Month

Montypythonoides riversleighensis, n., an extinct Australian snake

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In 1985, the christeners of a new genus of 15-million-year-old 30-foot-long fossil python they called Montypythonoides said the new slitherer “was found on a small hill, or monti.” They got away with it, but not for long. “Everybody who has a pet python calls it Monty,” says paleontologist John Scanlon of the Riversleigh Fossil Centre in Queensland, Australia.

The name was short-lived anyhow. More fossils, such as a toothed jawbone fragment (left), unearthed in the following decades forced a reclassification of the fossil into an already existing genus, dooming the joke to oblivion. Still, the former British comedy troupe lives on in posterity: Each of the six members has an eponymous asteroid, and a living species of long-legged, woolly lemur commemorates one of the troupe’s founders, John Cleese (Avahi cleesei).

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