Science Names New Flatworm Parasite Species after Barack Obama

Barack Obama and David Letterman

Meet the Baracktrema obamai, the second flatworm species named after Barack Obama. This makes the seventh species whose name drew inspiration from the 44th American president.

Scientists discovered the other parasitic worm bearing Obama’s name around Kenya’s Victoria Lake in 2012.  A separate group of researcher spotted B. obamai last year but it is only this week they named it.

The newly found worm species is a parasite which feeds on the blood Malaysian freshwater turtles. Although it is very tiny, it can cause inflammation and in worst case scenarios it can kill its hosts.

Some people criticized scientists for naming a parasite that kills off innocent creatures after Obama. But the team claims that having a newly found species named after you should be seen as a compliment.

For instance, according to biologist David Attenborough, who racks up several species named in his honor, having a new species bear you name is the “biggest of compliments that you could ask from any scientific community.”

Rules on Naming a New Animal

Researchers explained how they name new species. There are a set of rules which a team needs to follow for a valid scientific name. For instance, the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature has set in place some standards.

According to ICZN’s 1961 guidelines, while new languages can grow spontaneously, scientific names in biology need to still be relevant generations to come. The organization said that otherwise there would be “chaos” in the biological nomenclature.

If biologists follow some simple rules they have plenty of room to improvise. Yet, they need to fully master the art of restriction when considering a new name. But before that, they need to ensure that the new moniker does not offend any person or entity.

Scientists, however, must rely on their direct knowledge or “reasonable belief” when they establish a new species name.

On the other hand, this last rule seems at odds with the reality. For example, biologists have named a slime-mold beetle in the honor of the former U.S. president, and other bugs in Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney’s honor.

And one time a female biologist named a group of parasites after her ex-husband: microphallus.

There are 19 Species Bearing Lady Gaga’s Name

In Obama’s case, however, there is no trace of malice. But although the sitting president now has seven species named after him, he would need a lot more to match Charles Darwin and Attenborough’s. Darwin alone has hundreds of new animal species bearing his name.

One celebrity that provided huge inspiration to scientists was Lady Gaga who now boasts 19 species named in her honor.

Obama was also a source of inspiration for scientists in naming a new fish species from Tennessee, a lizard, a spider, and a bird. Researchers explained that in the first case they picked the president’s name as a token of appreciation for his administration’s conservation efforts, while in the second case they thought the president’s perfect teeth matched those of the lizard.

Eight years ago, scientists named a lichen after Obama for his involvement in promoting science education.
Image Source: Wikimedia