18 August 2009
The Guardian has an article on naming new species that amused me:
Apparently Sir David Attenborough has quite a few species already named in his honour: a prehistoric lizard, a parasitic wasp, an echidna (or spiny anteater), a fossilised fish. Now he can add a huge carnivorous plant to the list. It is so big that it might possibly be able to digest a small rodent
Sir David is delighted that the plant was given the scientific title Nepenthes attenboroughii by a team of botanists led by Stewart McPherson, who discovered it during a plant-hunting expedition to Mount Victoria in the Philippines.
"I like these oddball plants and this is a very dramatic one. It can hold up to two litres of water in its jugs," says Sir David. "It is a very nice, complimentary thing for this young, intrepid explorer to do and I am very touched that Stewart McPherson should have done it in my name."
Every year, more than 15,000 new species of animal alone are recognised by scientists. Modern scientists, while blind to the commercial potential of a new species of coffee plant called Starkbuckii or a prehistoric cow named McDonaldae, often have a weakness for honouring random celebrities.
As a result we have a sea snail called Bufonaria borisbeckeri, a ground beetle named Agra katewinsletae and several dinosaurs named after Jurassic Park director Steven Spielberg. Scientists have also immortalised their dodgy music taste -a dinosaur called Masiakasaurus knopfleri (How appropriate!,) and geeky passion for Star Wars (a wasp named Polemistus chewbacca and a beetle called Agathidium vaderi).
This year, a species of lichen was named Caloplaca obamae in honour of Barack Obama's support of science. Three species of slime-mold beetle were named (Agathidium bushi after George Bush, Agathidium cheneyi after Dick Cheney and Agathidium rumsfeldi after Donald Rumsfeld).
It is acceptable to name a species after a public figure but not after yourself, according to Steve Tracey of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. Scientists naming discoveries after family members is also "a little bit naughty", says Tracey, particularly as the discoverer's name is anyway placed next to the species name so authorship is not forgotten.
His personal favourites are humorous: the mollusc of the genus Abra that was given the species name cadabra,...
They must have been rolling in the aisles....