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New animal species shouldn’t be named after famous faces

By on May 11, 2022 0

Scientists shouldn’t name new species after celebrities in case they fall out of favor or are “cancelled”, an expert has said.

In recent years, a centipede has been named for Taylor Swift, a moth for Donald Trump, and a rubber frog for Sir David Attenborough.

But Professor Robert Poulin, from the University of Otago in New Zealand, said the trend should be avoided as it can lead to ‘nomenclature regret’.

American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift

Derek Hennen, a researcher at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., is a Taylor Swift fan, so he decided to name one of the centipede species Nannaria swiftae.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, he added: “One person’s hero is another’s villain, and even widely acclaimed celebrities today may fall out of favor tomorrow, leading to ‘nomenclatural regret’ for those who immortalized their name in a species.”

Instead, species names should refer to their shape or where they were found, he suggested.

He also lambasted scientists who name new insects and creatures after their girlfriends, pets, wives, husbands and friends as “nepotism and cronyism”.

A species or two named after a famous scientist should be enough to honor them, and, he adds, if you’re going to name a creature after a scientist, try to honor women scientists as much as you do. honor men – as most creatures named after people are named after a man.

Dr. Poulin stated that “there is no justification for repeatedly naming species after the same individual; certainly, a researcher whose name is already immortalized in the Latin name of two or three species does not need additional eponymous recognition.

New names must be approved by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN).

A butterfly named Neopalpa donaldtrumpi

Donald Trump former US President

Neopalpa donaldtrumpi is a species of butterfly found in southern California and northern Mexico

Naming a new species you discover after yourself is frowned upon and “just not done”.

Dr Poulin said he examined 2,900 species of helminths – types of parasitic worms – discovered over the past 20 years.

Many of the worms were named after famous scientists, he said.

But he added “we found a consistent gender bias”, with “male scientists being immortalized disproportionately more frequently than female scientists”.

He said: “Finally, we found that the tendency for taxonomists to name new species after a family member or close friend has increased over the past 20 years.”

Describing the tendency to name creatures, he said 601 were given a name related to their shape, 550 were named after the host organism, 616 after the locality where they were found, 596 after eminent scientists, while 528 were named after “something else”. .

The final category included Constrictoanchoratus lemmyi, named after the late “Lemmy” Kilminster, lead singer of Motorhead, and Baracktrema obamai, named after US President Barack Obama.

One was named after Eugene H Krabs, a character from Spongebob Squarepants, while another was named Glaurung, after a dragon featured in Tolkien’s novel Silmarillion.

Seventy-seven worms in the study were named after a single scientist, Dr. Charles Bursey.

Although names don’t have to convey information about the species, Dr. Poulin urged scientists to go back to the days when the chosen name “gives clues about what it looks like, what animal it lives in, or about where in the world he may be”. found’, and it’s ‘a simple, conservative approach that relates directly to the species itself.’

On the positive side, Dr. Poulin acknowledged that he can “bring public attention to the importance of species discovery and biodiversity.”

But he said, unlike scientists, “celebrities are already achieving worldwide fame and recognition without their name being immortalized in a new species.”

He added that the ICZN also recommends that “species names, where possible, should not offend”. “A famous politician or entertainer is unlikely to please everyone across cultures, across generations or socio-political divides, or over time.

He said the same arguments apply to species named after eminent scientists, whose opinions or ethics may later be questioned and “whose reputations may subsequently be tarnished for professional or personal reasons”. .

However, Dr. Poulin acknowledged that “most scientists get so little recognition for the major contributions they make to knowledge, that naming a new species after an eminent researcher seems more appropriate than giving it the name of a famous artist, athlete or politician”.

“Cancelling” a species name is not an easy task, however.

In one notorious case, in the 1930s, a blind beetle found in Slovenia was named after Adolf Hitler.

The beetle is threatened with extinction as it is only found in five caves and there is huge demand from neo-Nazis to possess the insect.

However, an attempt to rename the beetle, Anophthalmus hitleri, was rejected by the ICZN as it was correctly named at the time.

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