September 9th, 2016

A parasite is named in Obama’s honor

And it’s not the first:

Baracktrema obamai isn’t just any parasite. It’s so distinctive that it represents not just a new species but an entirely new genus…

B. obamai is a flatworm that infects black marsh turtles and southeast Asian box turtles in Malaysia…[It] is able to penetrate the circulatory system of a turtle host and deposit dozens of eggs in the small blood vessels inside turtle lungs, according to the study…

The idea of naming a parasite after the 44th president of the United States came to Platt after he learned that he was the fifth cousin, twice removed, of Barack Obama, the study explained. Platt said their common relative was a man named George Frederick Toot, who lived in Middletown, Pa., from 1759 to 1815.

This isn’t the first parasite to be named in Obama’s honor. In 2012, a team of researchers from the University of New Mexico, Oklahoma State University and the University of Hamburg in Germany christened a hairworm species Paragordius obamai because it was discovered about 12 miles from where the president’s father was raised in Kenya. P. obamai infects crickets, not humans, and is the first hairworm of its type known to reproduce asexually, according to a report in the journal PLOS ONE.

Scientists have also named a fish (Etheostoma obama), a trapdoor spider (Aptostichus barackobamai), a lichen species (Caloplaca obamae) and an extinct insect-eating lizard (Obamadon gracilis) after the current commander in chief.

Lest you think this is something singular, Obama is not the only president with creatures named after him. For example, we have a beetle species named after George W. Bush:

Naming species after celebrities is one seriously effective way for scientists to draw attention to taxonomy. Giving species a famous name for more public interest is “shameless self-promotion,” says Quentin Wheeler, the director of the International Institute for Species Exploration in Arizona…

Scientists are given free rein with naming, as long as they abide by guidelines set by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. The rules for patronyms–or scientific names in honor of people–do not limit which names are used. They just provide a uniform naming method. In general, an animal species ending in ‘i’ is named after one man. The ending ‘ae’ is for species named after one woman; ‘orum’ is reserved for species named after couples. Plant species operate under slightly different rules because the gender of the species must match that of the genus.

It’s not just presidents. At the link there’s a list of famous people who have had species named after them. My favorite may just be Sylvilagus palustris hefneri, a marsh rabbit (Hugh Hefner).

4 Responses to “A parasite is named in Obama’s honor”

  1. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Entirely appropriate, while giving a whole new meaning to ‘poetic irony’.

  2. FOAF Says:

    How outrageous! I would be *so* triggered, if I were a parasite.

  3. geokstr Says:

    The names of the any newly-discovered species of bloodsucking creatures, like a leech or a vampire bat or a mosquito or a bed bug, should be held open for His Lightness.

  4. Frog Says:

    “obamai” is the Latinized possessive.
    So Obama possesses Baracktrema, a flatworm that kills (?endangered) turtles by plugging pulmonary blood vessels.

    Mr. Platt demonstrably shares kinship with Obama. The are both worms of another genus.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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