During their final years in office, presidents often become preoccupied with their legacy, worrying about how they will be remembered by future generations. In case such thoughts are troubling Barack Obama, Grist would like to reassure the president that his place in history is assured.
In addition to serving as our first black president, under whose watch the United States recovered from a severe financial crisis and mandated health insurance for all of its citizens, Obama recently had a species of fish named after him.
Teleogramma obamaorum, a small snail-eating ciclid was discovered in 2011 in the lower Congo River by biologist Liz Alter of the City University of New York and Melanie Stiassny, of the Department of Ichthyology at the American Museum of Natural History. In April, the team named the new species after Barack and Michelle Obama to taxonomically honor the president’s commitment to the economic development of Africa, and the first lady’s campaign to train more women scientists.
So what is so special about this new Obama fish?
“T. obamaorum, is distinguished by numerous morphological and ecological attributes,” the authors offer helpfully in the abstract to their study, “including the lack of dorsoventral head and body depression, absence of sexual dichromatism, and features of laterosensory anatomy, pharyngeal and gut morphology, and dietary preference.”
Talk about eerie similarities!
The White House has not yet responded to Grist’s request for a comment on the naming of the Obama fish. T. obamaorum is not the first newly discovered species named after the 44th president. There is also a trapdoor spider named after Obama (Aptostichus barackobamai) in recognition of the president’s ability to protect himself from the Republican Congress while entrapping them, and there is a lichen native to California’s Santa Rosa Island, (Caloplaca obamae) to honor his support for environmental protection and education.
And let’s not forget the small insect-snarfng Cretaceous lizard (Obamadon gracilis). The Boston Globe reported that the Harvard paleontologists waited until after the last presidential election to file the name, since they didn’t want to jinx candidate Obama by linking him with an extinct creature.
Up to 24,000 new species are identified — and assigned a Latin name — every year. Obama is not the first government official to be so honored. In 2005, former Cornell University entomologists named three new species of slime mold beetle from southern Mexico after President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Agathidium bushi, Agathidium cheneyi, and Agathidium rumsfeldi.) These peace-loving creatures could not be reached for comment on whether they appreciated being named after the architects of the Iraq War.
Naming new species after politicians might be viewed as a gimmick to garner coverage for otherwise snooze-able scientific discoveries. But Obama-fish namer Liz Alter told Grist that she hopes that it will help draw attention to a larger issue.
“Tropical freshwater habitats are some of the most endangered in the world,” says Alter. “The Congo River in particular is a little explored library of evolutionary diversity. There are an extraordinary number of unique lifeforms like the Obama fish that live only in this place. But the habitat is under threat from climate change, overfishing, and a major new proposed dam. We’re hoping that discovering and cataloging this extraordinary wealth of life will help us to protect it.”
Just watch out for the Squalis scalia, little guy.