NAMESAKE

Scientists love president Obama so much they’ve named nine different animals after him

Many Americans are going to miss US president Barack Obama when he vacates the White House. Days after the 2016 election, his approval rating was its highest since 2009.

Scientists have also wanted to express their gratitude to the 44th president, and have done so in the best way they can: By immortalizing him in the names of newly-discovered animal species.

Although biodiversity loss is a serious problem worldwide, each year scientists stumble upon around 18,000 new species. Usually, these animals are spiders, insects, parasites, fish, and fungi—in other words, life that lives in the harder-to-find nooks and crannies of the earth. The International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature gives names to each of these species using two words: the first is a genus, which is a broader category of animals, and the second is the specific species. Often, these names are based on Latin words, but they don’t have to be.

According to Science magazine, since Obama took office, there have been no less than nine different animals named after him. These include:

  • Aptostichus barackobamai, a trapdoor spider that lives in northern California
  • Etheostoma obama, a colorful freshwater darter fish found in the eastern US
  • Tosanoides obama, a coral reef fish that lives off the coast of Hawaii
  • Obamadon gracilis, an extinct, foot-long lizard that ate insects and lived in ancient North America
  • Caloplaca obamae, an orange lichen that lives in California
  • Teleogramma obamaorum, a fish that lives in the Congo
  • Nystalus obamai, a bird that lives in the Amazon
  • Baracktrema obamai, a parasite from Malaysia that lives in turtles
  • Paragordius obamai, a parasite from Kenya that lives in humans

Although Obama has the most animal species named after him among US presidents, Theodore Roosevelt isn’t far behind with seven. (Sirindhorn, the princess of Thailand, has the most species named after her of any political leader, with 13.) So far, president-elect Donald Trump has only an extinct sea urchin named after him (Tetragramma donaldtrumpi). Pop culture celebrities share nomenclature stardom, too: Beyoncé has a horse fly in her honor (Scaptia beyonceae), Shakira has a wasp (Aleiodes shakirae), and Johnny Cash has a black tarantula (Aphonopelma johnnycashi).

The upside of celebrity-inspired animal names is that they can generate (often fleeting) public excitement about biodiversity. But, in the long-run, pop-culture animal namesakes may not make sense for science. “The understanding of why something was named after Beyoncé is going to go away,” Ellinor Michel, an ecologist and chair of the International Committee on Bionomenclature (which discusses all things related to animal naming), told Quartz earlier this year about the celebrity-named species phenomenon.

But the scientists who named the creatures after Obama probably just want to express admiration for him. Thomas Platt, a recently retired biologist from St. Mary’s College in Indiana who discovered the B. obamai, said the turtle-dwelling parasite reminded him of the current president. “It’s long. It’s thin. And it’s cool as hell,” he told the AP.

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