Our First Mission Isn’t Finished

There’s plenty left to name in the sometimes silly, always vast field of taxonomy. /

How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures… May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works. — Ps. 104:24, 31

A good name is more desirable than great riches. — Prov. 22:1

When Matt Damon made botany look cool for a brief moment in the movie The Martian, scientists hoped to push their real-life bush tomato plant into the limelight. Named after Damon’s character, Mark Watney, the newly dubbed Solanum watneyi has large purple flowers and round yellow fruit and grows in the Australian bush. The plant is in the same genus as the potato plant that Watney coaxes to grow on Mars.

The name joins others in the tradition of naming species after famous people or fictional characters—a practice that has increased in recent years.

In January, an Australian leech was named Chtonobdella tanae after author Amy Tan, who mentions jungle leeches several times in her book Saving Fish from Drowning. At only one centimeter long and two millimeters across, it’s too small to dissect. Instead, biologists described it using computed tomography scanning.

“I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan enthused. “This humble leech has looped across a new scientific threshold—the first microscopic soft-bodied critter to be described inside and out using CT scanning. Imagine the possibilities for identifying legions of tiny organisms that have thus far lived in obscurity. I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

Shakira has a parasitic wasp (Aleiodes shakirae) ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 45 / March 31, 2016
  1. Editor's Note from March 31, 2016

    Issue 45: The fun in naming, how pyrite changed the world, and why it’s fine that piratebush didn’t change much of anything. /

  2. The Surprising Riches of Fool’s Gold

    Pyrite, the stone rejected as an imposter, is the cornerstone of the modern world. /

  3. Let Us Now Praise Obscure, Useless Plants

    God and I delight in piratebush like he delights in me. /

  4. Fetal Heartbeat

    “like the wings of millions of monarchs returned” /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 45: Links to amazing stuff.

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