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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Naming new species

What would you name a new species, if you found one?

Bob Brockie writes erudite but entertaining science opeds for the Dominion Post.

This week's treat, called "In the name of science," told us strange stories about the naming of new species.

"YOU will have heard the story of the 5-year-old English girl Daisy Morris who recently discovered a new species of fossil on the Isle of Wight," he begins. "The crow-sized flying dinosaur has been given the scientific name Vectodraco daisymorrisa – 'Daisy Morris’ Isle of Wight dragon'."
As he remarks, very cute!

"This is not the first time a fossil has been named after its child-discoverer," he goes on. "In 1957, schoolboy Roger Mason found a new animal fossil in Leicestershire. It is known to this day as Charnia masoni."

Well, it's a lovely way for your name to go down in posterity, but -- as Brockie reveals -- the process can have hooks.

"In the 19th century, American science was dogged by a public vendetta between two fossil hunters, Othneil Marsh and Edward Cope. These intense rivals competed to discover and name new fossil reptiles and they fought each other by naming new species in insulting Latin. For example, Marsh’s Copeanus, and Cope’s 'Anisonchus cophater I have named in honour of the number of Copehaters who surround me’. Their rumpus was known as 'The Bone Wars’."

Funnier still is the story of the slime mold beetles.

"Two American entomologists named a trio of slime mould beetles after George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Many Democrats thought the names were invented to insult the Bush administration, but both entomologists were staunch Republicans who said they named the beetles in honour of the president, the vice-president and the defence secretary.

"The same entomologists named another black beetle in the series with a helmet-like head Agathidium vaderi, after Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of Sith."

Talk about desperation!

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