Two gruesome parasites, an extinct lizard, some blotchy lichen, a mean-looking fish – as well as two quite pretty ones. And a particularly hairy scary spider known to ambush unsuspecting snakes passing by its hidden trapdoors. (A political metaphor? We can but hope!)
What’s not for the President to love?
Seriously though, the discoverers of these new-to-science species have found some pretty cool reasons for honoring Mr Obama in this way. I’ve highlighted them because they are good.
Jessica Boddy for Science magazine Dec. 29, 2016:
From the extinct Obamadon to the barackobamai spider, the outgoing U.S. president is a taxonomic inspiration.
Though U.S. President Barack Obama is leaving office soon, he will be forever immortalized in taxonomy thanks to scientists who have named species after him. Nine different species from extinct lizards to trapdoor spiders got their names from the 44th U.S. president, which is more than any of his predecessors. (Theodore Roosevelt comes in as a close second with seven.)
Here are the creatures that are saying “Thanks, Obama,” for their presidential names.
Aptostichus barackobamai (trapdoor spider)
In 2012, biologist Jason Bond of Auburn University in Alabama declared the existence of 33 new trapdoor spider species in the journal ZooKeys. He named many of them after celebrities like Stephen Colbert (Aptostichus stephencolberti) and even one after the aggressive desert-burrowing menace from Star Wars called the sarlacc (A. sarlacc). But Bond named one spider A. barackobamai in appreciation for Obama.
“I feel like his presidency is noteworthy,” Bond told Wired. “He’s been a true statesman in the face of ridiculous opposition.”
You can find A. barackobamai among the redwoods in north-central California, ambushing countless dim-witted insects, frogs, and even snakes that venture past its hidden trapdoors.
Etheostoma Obama (spangled darter)
The longest river in Tennessee is home to the darter, a tiny fish named for its tendency to zip around cold, clear waters. When examining color variation in the common speckled darter, biologists Steve Layman from Geosyntec Consultants, an environmental consulting and engineering firm based in Atlanta, and Richard Mayden at Saint Louis University in Missouri realized they weren’t looking at just one species, but five. As they describe in their November 2012 paper in the Bulletin of the Alabama Museum of Natural History, the duo named one Etheostoma obama, or the spangled darter. Only about 45 millimeters long, the fish is wonderfully colored with iridescent blue and orange spots and stripes.
The biologists say they decided to name the darter after Obama because of his focus on clean energy and environmental protection.
Obamadon gracillis (extinct insectivorous lizard)
Five million years ago, a fearsome lizard roamed the land … well, fearsome to insects, anyway. The now extinct Obamadon gracilis, or just Obamadon, was only a third of a meter long and devoured insects using a set of impressively tall and straight teeth. Paleontologists discovered an Obamadon fossil in Hell Creek Formation in Montana and published their finding in the December 2012 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
They were fascinated by the lizard’s impeccable choppers, which they say reminded them of President Obama’s smile.
Paragordius obamai (hairworm)
Hairworms are gruesome parasites that grow up to 30 centimeters long inside the bodies of their hosts. Lucky for you, they only infect crickets. One particular hairworm species, the African hairworm, was discovered in Kenya in 2012. Biologist Ben Hanelt of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque was splitting open some crickets to check out their parasites, but was baffled when an entire population turned out to be female. Turns out he found the first species of parthenogenic hairworms—meaning the female parasites can reproduce without any male assistance, as noted in his PLOS ONE study published in April 2012.
Hanelt named the parasite Paragordius obamai in honor of Obama, as the president’s father and stepgrandmother are from a Kenyan town just 19 kilometers away from where he found the parasites.
Baracktrema obamai (turtle blood fluke)
Earlier this year, Obama had the honor of being named after a second parasite, this time one that lives in the blood of Malaysian freshwater turtles. As described in the August issue of the Journal of Parasitology, Baracktrema obamai are as thin as human hair and reside in the turtles’ lungs, where they lay their eggs. Thomas Platt, a biologist who retired from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, this year, assures the public this is meant as a compliment to Obama, not an insult.
He told the Associated Press B. obamai reminded him of the sitting president of the United States (POTUS) because of its resilience throughout its life cycle, in addition to the fact that “it’s long. It’s thin. And it’s cool as hell.”
Nystalus obamai (western striolated puffbird)
In 2008, biologist Bret Whitney at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge was doing field work in the Amazon when he heard a bird sing a song he’d never heard before. After analyzing its DNA, Whitney realized he’d found a new species of puffbird: stout, fluffy birds with exceptionally large heads that live mostly solitary lives in the Amazonian treetops.
Whitney named it Nystalus obamai in a June 2013 Handbook of the Birds of the World paper in honor of Obama’s impact on the development of green technology—particularly solar energy—that could help preserve ecosystems like N. obamai’s.
Teleogramma obamaorum (African cichlid species)
Along just 40 kilometers in a stream in the African Congo swims another Obama-monikered fish: Teleogramma obamaorum. The cichlid was discovered in 2011 when a drought caused water levels to dip down low, exposing the populations to researchers who were sampling the area. As noted in her April 2015 study in American Museum Novitates,
Melanie Stiassny, an ichthyologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, chose to name the fish the plural obamaorum in reference to both Michelle and Barack as a nod to their commitment to science education and environmental conservation in Africa.
Caloplaca obamae (firedot lichen)
One species of orange-red lichen grows only on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of California: firedot lichen. Discovered during an ecological survey in 2007, Caloplaca obamae was the first organism to be named after the 44th president.
Researchers made their final collections of the lichen for research at the suspenseful tail end of Obama’s presidential campaign,so they chose C. obamae in support of Obama’s appreciation for science and science education.
They reported their discovery in the March 2009 issue of the journal Opuscula Philolichenum.
Tosanoides obama (coral reef basslet)
The newest organism to bear Obama’s name is a pink, blue, and yellow coral reef fish. Tosanoides obama was discovered in June of this year, and given its name in the journal ZooKeys.
Obama is the only fish to live exclusively in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a protected reserve that President Obama expanded to 1,508,870 square kilometers this year in August. That decree made it the largest ecologically protected place on the planet, and it prohibits any commercial extraction like fishing or deep-sea mining within the monument.
Richard Pyle, a marine biologist at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, discovered and named the fish, and insists, like other biologists before him, that it’s meant as a compliment to honor POTUS’s respect and protection of the natural world.
To find out more about President Obama’s environmental legacy by protecting sacred Navajo land at Bears Ears, click here