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How UCLA Fish Scientist Helped Make Movie Alien Terrifyingly Real

When Kelsi Rutledge came to UCLA to pursue graduate studies, she didn’t expect to land a side hustle in Hollywood. But her discovery of a new fish species attracted the attention of director Jordan Peele, and she enthusiastically accepted his invitation to help create a scientifically plausible alien for his latest movie, “Nope.”

The movie, which is in theaters now, tells the story of a small group of determined people who confront a dangerous species that appears to be from outer space.

Rutledge, who will receive her doctoral degree in ecology and evolutionary biology this fall, studies how rays and other fish smell chemicals in the ocean. The project was inspired by her master’s thesis on guitarfish, a type of ray that lacks a stinger.

“Someone collected these fishes in the Gulf of California and put them on the shelf at UCLA and in the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles but never examined them further,” Rutledge said. “When I was looking at them I thought some of them looked different, but I wasn’t sure at first.”

Further study showed this was a new species, which Rutledge named Pseudobatos buthi in honor of her late thesis advisor, ecology and evolutionary biology professor Donald Buth.

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