Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Tony Deyal | Beetle mania

Published:Saturday | July 16, 2016 | 7:00 AM

First there was President Barack Obama. According to the Washington Post (April 26, 2014), "Obama is a parasite. He's also a fungus, a spider and an extinct lizard." Sounds like Donald Trump? But The Donald would not have been delighted unless he was a candle-fly.

The Post explained, "But before President Obama's critics rejoice, having unappealing species named after you is apparently a good thing."

Jason Bond, an Auburn University professor, said, "Honestly, it's difficult for me to envision a higher honour. It's permanent. In science, there are few things that we do as scientists that has the permanency that taxonomy does."

Bond, a spider expert at the university's Department of Biological Sciences and its Museum of Natural History, discovered several new species of trapdoor spiders in late 2012, and named one of his favourites, Aptostichus barackobamai, after the president.

Bond said that like Obama, the spider had unique characteristics. According to livescience, the spider builds a protective shield and hides behind it before attacking prey.

In April 2009, a researcher at the University of California Riverside found a new lichen species, which is a kind of fungi, and named it Caloplaca obamae. Actually, as one friend explained, Obama can be a really fun guy.

 

SOMETHING FISHY

 

But how do you explain a bright orange fish speckled with blue marks named Etheostoma obama? Is it that there is something fishy about his birthplace? Actually, the story is that in November 2012, new fish species were named after Democratic presidents who were committed to environmental protection. The other partisan fish are named for former presidents Clinton, Carter and Roosevelt. A fifth fish is named for former Vice President Al Gore.

It does not end there. It was reported that in April 2012, a new parasite was discovered near Obama's father's birthplace in Kenya. The hairworm, unique because it can reproduce without a male, is named Paragordius obamai, in honour of the president.

In December 2012, just after Obama won re-election, Yale scientists named an ancient extinct lizard species Obamadon. The Boston Globe reported that the scientists waited until after the election because if Obama lost, they didn't want him to think they were calling him extinct. Some political analysts are already saying that support for The Donald, who claims his favourite meal at McDonald's is the fish delight, will tank. As one critic quipped, "That is because he looks like a Blob fish."

President Obama is not alone. Nelson Mandela had not just a sea slug named after him, but its whole genus and family. Calling the slug the Mandelia mirocornata was a huge honour, bigger than a .45 Magnum.

Among the beetles, there is the Aegomorphus wojtylai named for Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), and Agathidium bushi for President George W. Bush. In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler got a blind beetle that lives in caves in Slovenia, the Anophthalmus hitleri. There are also the Marxella and Marxiana wasps, named after Karl Marx, the Mirina Confucius moth, named after Confucius, the Orontobia Dalailama moth, named after the Dalai Lama and the Cheguevaria beetle, named after Che Guevara.

Publicly, neither the creatures nor the celebrities ever made a fuss about their taxonomic fame or tried to bury it. Now that has changed.

 

BIG DADDY

 

A patriotic Chinese scientist named a newly discovered beetle species after Chinese President Xi Jinping (known also as Big Daddy, or Daddy Xi). The taxonomist responsible, Cheng-Bin Wang, named the beetle as a "tremendous honour" for the president.

Writing in the taxonomy journal Zootaxa, he said, "The specific epithet is dedicated to Dr Xi Jinping, the president of the People's Republic of China, for his leadership making our motherland stronger and stronger." Mr Wang told the AFP news agency he greatly admired the leader of the Chinese Communist Party and saw the beetle as a symbol of Mr Xi's achievements.

He said: "The Rhyzodiastes (Temoana) is very rare - you might not encounter a single one even after 10 field collection sessions - and it also eats rotten wood for food. So it's a metaphor for Xi Jinping, a rare person you only encounter once a century, and specifically his controls on corruption, which will allow Chinese corruption to gradually disappear."

Mr Wang's eight-page paper, published last month, went into great detail about the magnificent creature, especially the "lustrous" sheen of its body and its "genital segment ... moderately long and narrowly rounded at tip".

Whether it is Wang's revelation about the size of his wang, or the fact that the beetle feeds on decaying matter, the president was not amused and, in fact, it really bugged him. Wang tried to reason with him, "Hello! Beloved, President Xi! This is a rare beetle! The name of the species will exist for ever! A tremendous honour!"

The president clearly does not agree and posts about the beetle have been removed from Chinese social-media sites. As one newspaper said, "Chinese censors fumigate the Internet yet again."

- Tony Deyal was last seen asking how does every Chinese joke start? By looking over your shoulder.