Meet the Griffiths, a family with sea creatures named after them

28 April 2019 - 00:00 By TANYA FARBER


Meet the Shrimptons. Well, the Griffiths, actually.
It's not often that every member of a family has a critter named after them, but in the case of Charles, Roberta, Matthew and Melinda, we're looking at three shrimps and a sea slug.
Until Roberta Griffiths's recent 73rd birthday, it was only her two children and her husband who had underwater namesakes. Now, with the publication of her husband's paper about Sunamphitoe roberta, the family collection is complete.
Roberta was taken by surprise when she received a framed picture of the shrimp, which was named after her by her husband Charles, emeritus professor in marine biology at the University of Cape Town.
Charles has authored papers describing more than 100 species new to science. But he wanted to find something special to name after his wife, also a marine biologist, and found it in a shrimp that tunnels into kelp.
"The first job we had together was on a big research programme on kelp, so when we were dating and got married, kelp was a big thing for us," he said. "Also, this particular group of shrimps has been a big part of our lives, so it has double significance."
Roberta said she was "very honoured and delighted" to have given her name to a species she had often helped her husband to collect.
Taxonomists do not name species after themselves, so in Charles's case it was colleagues who named several species of shrimp after him. The sea slug was named by Roberta after their daughter Melinda.
The shrimp named after Matthew was discovered when he was a toddler and needed a "pee break" during a family holiday near Knysna. Charles took the opportunity to gather some creatures he had seen in a freshwater stream. "I wrote in the paper that a pee stop had led to the discovery of the species," he said.
Finding new species was "the ultimate collector's dream", said Charles. "Discovering a species that is new to science is an unbeatable thrill for a biologist."
Melinda has a doctorate in chemical engineering. Her brother Matthew did art at school and now runs a film production company, Echo Ledge Media.

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