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First mistaken as Pseudapocryptes confluentus the small goby was found on the banks of the Fly River at Madiri, about 74km upriver from Toro Pass, Papua New Guinea by Tyson Roberts in 1978.

The collected examples were later identified by Ed Murdy as a different species and were given a new name. The fish was so different, that it needed a new generic name all to itself; the new genus needed a name, and Ed had to choose it.

The name he chose was Zappa, and the humble goby from the Fly River now rejoiced in the name Zappa confluentus. Ed wrote it up in the Records of the Australian Museum (Supplement 11, 31 August 1989; ISBN 073056374x, pp 53/54). The paper is entitled A Taxonomic Revision and Cladistic Analysis of the Oxudercine Gobies (Gobiidae: Oxudercinae).

Almost 10 years later again, and Ed Murdy is Director of the Tokyo Regional Office of National Science Foundation.

"This particular fish is clearly different from any other known to science, which is why the designation of a new genus was necessary. As to why I chose the name Zappa, there are three reasons: 1. I like his music, 2. I liked his politics and principles 3. The name itself is a good one for scientific nomenclature."

On the subject of the music, Ed says "I wouldn't classify myself as a Zappa Freak. I know the lyrics to some songs, but do not own all the albums." [email to author]

As for the politics and principles, Ed's paper, as is usual, contains a few words on the name chosen. "The generic name," it says, "is in honour of Frank Zappa for his articulate and sagacious defense of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution." – "The Senate Hearings were impressive, I found Zappa to be incredibly articulate." And the name? "The name is short, snappy, and easy to pronounce."

Holotype of Zappa confluentus, USNM 217952, 35 mm SL, Papua New Guinea

Zappa confluentus, technical details

For more information on the Gobiidae, see the Science page.

The genus Zappa is apparantly distinguishable from all other members of the subfamily [Oxudercinae] in having "the first spinous dorsal fin pterygiophore bent posteriorly at a point three quarters along its length to extend horizontally over tip of fourth neural spine." [Edward O. Murdy, op. cit.]

"I don't see much resemblance in the picture to Frank himself – but I never did have a chance to see which way Frank's spinous dorsal fin pterygiophore was bent . . ." [David Ocker, email to author]

Other natural phenomena named after FZ:

  • The Gene - "ZapA (Proteus mirabilis)"
  • The Jellyfish - "Phialella zappai"
  • The Mollusc - "Amauratoma zappa"
  • The Spider - "Pachygnatha zappa"
  • The Planet - "Zappafrank"

Source: Natural Phenomena Named After Frank Zappa