A newly discovered giraffe-like creature that roamed Europe some 13 to 20 million years ago has a moniker fit for a queen. Say hello to Xenokeryx amidalae, named after the "Star Wars" character Queen Amidala, played by actress Natalie Portman in 1999.
An international team of researchers recently analyzed well-preserved fossilized bones, including parts of the skull and teeth, of the prehistoric animal that were housed at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid -- and found that the remains represent a previously unknown species.
The males likely sported three horns similar to a hairstyle worn by the fictional queen, according to Israel Sánchez, a researcher at the museum and a co-author of the study, which appeared in the journal Plos One on Wednesday.
"If you remember the 'Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace' film, when Padme Amidala is queen of her home planet Naboo, she shows off several complicated dresses and hairstyles," Sánchez told The Huffington Post.
"Well, one of the hairstyles from a scene in Coruscant is strikingly similar to the occipital appendage of Xenokeryx," he added. "That is the very reason of the specific name of Xenokeryx. Yes, I am a fan of 'Star Wars.'"
The fossilized remains of Xenokeryx amidalae, which likely belonged to an adult male and two juveniles, were discovered at the La Retama site in Cuenca Province, central Spain, in the 1990s, Sánchez said. The fossils always fascinated him, which led to the new analysis.
The researchers concluded that Xenokeryx amidalae -- an herbivore about as big as an average-size deer -- must have belonged to a group of mammals called palaeomerycids, Reuters reported.
Some scientists previously thought that palaeomerycids in Europe were closely related to ancient deer-like mammals in North America called dromomerycids. But based on their new analysis, the researchers concluded that palaeomerycids may instead be relatives of giraffes.
"It is strange, it posed a good phylogenetic (evolutionary history) problem, it is fun to reconstruct and it is a window to the marvels of the past," Sanchez told Reuters about Xenokeryx. "In this case, being a life-long 'Star Wars' fan, it was great to mix my two passions."
What other bizarre prehistoric beasts roamed the Earth millions of years ago? Check out the "Talk Nerdy To Me" episode below to find out.