A new amphibian named after Trump!

Ladies, and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, meet Dermophis donaldtrumpi, a newly-named species of amphibian, which has its own Wikipedia page even though the name was announced yesterday. It’s a caecilian, or legless amphibian, which looks for all the world like a worm. But it is an amphibian. Here it is:

The BBC report (click on screenshot below), which flaunts another photo of the creature defaced by bad hair (they didn’t need to do that; the animal is beautiful!), explains the naming:

The Dermophis donaldtrumpi [sic, no “the”], which was discovered in Panama, was named by the head of a company that had bid $25,000 (£19,800) at auction for the privilege.

The company said it wanted to raise awareness about climate change.

“[Dermophis donaldtrumpi] is particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change and is therefore in danger of becoming extinct as a direct result of its namesake’s climate policies,” said EnviroBuild co-founder Aidan Bell in a statement.

Wikipedia names the successfully bidding cmpany and gives some additional information:

Aidan Bell, owner of EnviroBuild, named the species after Trump to bring awareness to Trump’s policies on climate change and the danger they pose of causing the extinction of species. Bell said “It is the perfect name. Caecilian is taken from the Latin caecus, meaning ‘blind’, perfectly mirroring the strategic vision President Trump has consistently shown towards climate change.”

More from the BBC:

The small, blind, creature is a type of caecilian that primarily lives underground, and Mr Bell drew an unflattering comparison between its behaviour and Mr Trump’s.

“Burrowing [his] head underground helps Donald Trump when avoiding scientific consensus on anthropomorphic climate change,” [Bell] wrote.

The amphibian is not the first beast to be named after Donald Trump.

Last year, Neopalpa donaldtrumpi, was discovered by biologist Vazrick Nazari in a collection of moths from the Museum of Entomology, at the University of California. The scientist said the moth’s unique head colouring reminded him of the president.

The moth’s head scales reminded Nazari of The Donald’s hair:

My view? Well, I don’t like political statements being inserted gratuitously into scientific papers, like the monkey dropping with Trump’s face, but this isn’t quite the same. The naming was done by someone who paid money to conserve habitats, and the scientists might not even mention the politics of that name when they write up the formal species description. Even so, 25K for conservation is 25K, so I’ll be a hypocrite for that.

The BBC gives other President-named creatures:

h/t: Simon

65 Comments

  1. James
    Posted December 19, 2018 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a fan of this. Naming a species isn’t about scoring momentary political points; it’s going to be that species’ name for as long as science endures. Will people 200 years from now understand why this species was named after Trump? Probably not.

    Secondly, it’s degrading. This is supposed to be an honor, not an insult. Sure, this isn’t a conventionally attractive species–it’s not fluffy with soft, big eyes–but still, it’s a living thing. We should be naming them after people worth memorializing, not as a way to insult people.

    And that’s dangerous. The Right already thinks that much of science is little more than a wing of the Democratic Party; this only provides evidence that they were right. I’m not saying we should cater to lunatics, but I do think that we can find a middle ground between catering to them on one and, and proving their worst preconceptions on the other!

    Ultimately it’s their choice, but for my part I find this crass, childish, and ultimately undermines scientific credibility to the public.

    • Posted December 19, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      You have a point. But this is what you get when you auction off species names.

      • James
        Posted December 19, 2018 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        True. You’d think we’d have learned our lesson after Boaty McBoatface.

        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted December 19, 2018 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

          I like Boaty McBoatface — it was a boat. That doesn’t nullify my comment below.

        • Mark Sturtevant
          Posted December 19, 2018 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

          I can agree with your point above. But will be willfully immature about Boaty McBoatface.

      • Posted December 19, 2018 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        There is a long tradition, beginning with Linnaeus, of naming unpleasant species after one’s enemies.

        My foundation has three new species whose naming rights went up for auction at the same time as this caecilian. I haven’t been told yet what names were chosen for our species. This might be interesting!

        • James
          Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

          Doesn’t make it any less stupid. Again, in 50 years will anyone remember that it was supposed to be an insult?

          • Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

            It is not stupid or childish. It is a way to use scientific nomenclature to do something positive for the world.

            • James
              Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

              I was referring to the first part of your post. Auctioning off the naming rights seems weird to me, but whatever; it’s your call. I doubt it’s going to do much good, and I can see it backfiring horribly (how many people in the auction have read the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature?), but I’ve been wrong before.

              Naming a species out of spite is stupid and childish.

              • Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

                The name was chosen because of his sticking his head in the sand on climate change. The name is accurate and clever.

              • James
                Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

                I disagree. It’s the kind of thing I’d expect from my child’s daycare classmates.

              • GBJames
                Posted December 19, 2018 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

                Your child has some extremely astute classmates.

          • Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

            And in 50 years, maybe everyone will remember Donald Trump’s climate-change denialism, as temperature soar and species disappear.

            • Posted December 19, 2018 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

              I wouldn’t want people to use Trump as an excuse for their inaction 4 decades after he leaves the White House.
              Every time when someone asks why there are so few institutions for mentally ill Americans, the answer is that Reagan closed them. Convincing! Apparently, some law of the univers prevents the building of new ones…

          • GBJames
            Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

            I don’t understand this objection. If in 50 years nobody remembers, then it will be like 99.9% of the other names.

            In fact, the chances that someone will remember why Dermophis donaldtrumpi is so named is considerably greater than other names.

            Do you know why coprolites are named that? It is easy to find out the answer if you don’t.

            • James
              Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

              “Coprolite” comes from the Greek “kopros” (dung) and “lithos” (stone). Not sure where you’re going with this one.

              Maybe it’s just me. But making a permanent mark on taxonomy to score cheap political points and satisfy the most petty of human urges rubs me the wrong way. At least folks honored by having a species named after them WERE honored, even if they were forgotten.

              • GBJames
                Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

                I had thought that paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh created the name as a “tribute” to his bitter rival Edward Drinker Cope.

            • Kevin
              Posted December 19, 2018 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

              Fossilised dung: from posterior to posterity. Some by the larger dinosaurs are literally monumental. The smaller ones make marvelous paperweights.
              The ideal seasonal gift.

          • David Coxill
            Posted December 20, 2018 at 12:52 am | Permalink

            Agreed,i would consider it an honour to have a new species named for me .

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted December 21, 2018 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

            At least in palaeontological convention, there is a section in the formal declaration of a new taxon for describing the etymology of the name chosen. If the same convention applies in less fossilised sciences, then the insult will be preserved for the lifetime of our scientific literature.
            Naming opportunities come up more rarely in mineralogy. But the author of the default mineralogy text book in the US has Danaite and danalite named for him, while the corresponding trio in Britain have deerite, howieite and zussmannite.
            I can’t think, offhand, of any that have been clearly named for unpleasant reasons, but there are enough subtle variations in the iron-arsenic-sulphur phase diagram to fit several poisonous and inflammatory compounds in there should the desire arise.
            Does the bombardier beetle have any unnamed anatomy associated with the corrosive superheated bile it spurts out under provocation?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Among the many species named after Barack Obama are a parasitic worm and a sea slug. I don’t recall there having been a whole lotta fretting going on over that. And had there been, I’m sure ol’ Barry woulda laughed it right off. But then the ability to have a laugh at one’s own expense — an ability our current chief executive has never given the slightest evidence of having — is a sign of mental balance, you ask me.

      If Trump had any class, he’d own this and show the world that, despite all indications to the contrary, he actually has a sense of humor.

      Don’t hold your breath.

      • JezGrove
        Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

        Are you sure that he didn’t name it in his own honor after bidding for the right using funds from the Trump Foundation?

      • James
        Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

        I would be thrilled to have a parasitic worm named after me. And sea slugs can be remarkably beautiful.

        Fully agree about the ability to laugh at one’s self. And about the likelihood of Trump acting with any class in this situation. If I were Trump I’d invest a few million in preserving this species, following the grand American tradition of turning insults into badges of honor (see the donkey/elephant thing, the term Yankee, many of our patriotic songs….).

  2. Jenny Haniver
    Posted December 19, 2018 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    I object to the salamander being named after Donald Trump, and I don’t care how much money was paid to secure naming rights. Not only is it injecting politics into taxonomy (which I object to on its face)if wealthy people can shell out big bucks to name new species (or rename old ones)and have free rein, as far as I’m concerned, that debases taxonomy as well as the animal or plant in question. Furtherore, it opens the door to all manner of ludicrous and objectionable names, and makes wealth a determining factor in that ability. I say leave the naming to the taxonomists, and the taxonomists ought not to let the responsibility go to their heads and get too cute, which they sometimes do.

    Keep it traditional and truly descritive. (Reminds me of that buy a star/name a star scam — maybe there’s a star named Cutie Pie Pammy.)

    • Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      I strongly disagree. We’ve always names species and genera for our own reasons. Sometimes we’ve honored sponsors of expeditions that led to our discoveries, or important politicians. See the many rothschildianas, victoria-reginaes, etc. We’ve also always been silly at times. A famous botanist in the 1800s named a new orchid genus “Aa” so his genus would be the first in any list of orchids.

      Personally, I have often named species after people who helped with the expeditions, and it is even more appropriate to honor someone who helps save the species they are naming. In this caecilian case, the taxonomist is honoring the wishes of the person who is helping save the species. I think that is fine.

      • James
        Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        Agreed. Levity is not a bad thing. After you’ve named 50 or 60 species, you run out of descriptive names, and need to do something amusing. And sometimes it’s both–I recall one Galathea crab who’s name translates to “boring crab”. Its carapace has no ornamentation, which is unusual; it’s also pretty obviously a name made up by someone who’s seen far, far too many of these little buggers!

        And honoring someone by naming a species after them is, I think, acceptable. It’s a way of showing appreciation, which we need more of in this world.

        It’s the perversion of the process into a political statement, and a personal attack, that I find vile. It’s a perversion of something that should be good and noble, into something spiteful.

      • Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        By the way, that caecilian was the species that raised the most money in that auction.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        What if someone who had the naming rights (for whatever reason) detested Jews or Muslims or blacks or Latinos, would that give them the right to use deprecatory terms about members of those groups, just because?

        • Mark Sturtevant
          Posted December 19, 2018 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

          We will cross that bridge when we get to it, as my mother would say.

        • GBJames
          Posted December 19, 2018 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

          Not sure what your point is, Jenny. That we should stop naming things to prevent offenses?

          • Jenny Haniver
            Posted December 19, 2018 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

            Upon reflection, I’m not sure what my point was, except to speculate on just how far down the sinkhole of inanity and offensiveness one could go. I do think that naming the salamander after Trump is a waste of a good taxonomic opportunity. And I’m not against names that some might consider offensive and/or off-color. One of my favorite scientific names is Coluber constrictor priapus, which is an excellent name for this snake, for a number of reasons, not only scientific.

            • Posted December 19, 2018 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

              Except that Coluber constrictor does not and can not constrict prey, but I too have always smiled with the 2nd epithet of “priapus” pity those who don’t know Latin.

              • Kevin
                Posted December 19, 2018 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

                Came from Greek first into Latin. I am aware also of a medical condition called priapism, though I think I will leave it in Latin.

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted December 21, 2018 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

                Why did that little bit of Latin rattle through my mind recently? Oh yes, bobbit worms were in the news for some reason, and I wondered, given their informal etymology, if they had ever been seen grabbing hold of a priapulid worm.
                Leg-crossings and wincing on the spear side.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted December 19, 2018 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

          I note that the species Jewfish (which, to my understanding, were named without any anti-Semitic intent) have been renamed (apparently in deference to political correctness) “Goliath Grouper” — although many local landmarks, such as Jewfish Creek (the cut between the Straits of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico that separates the Florida Keys from the mainland) still bear the name.

          • Jenny Haniver
            Posted December 19, 2018 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

            It’s not a taxonomic appellation, but I love the name of the moth called the Setaceous Hebrew Character, so named because each of its forewings has a marking resembling the Hebrew letter “nun.” I call it “the flying nun.”

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted December 19, 2018 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

              🙂

          • Kevin
            Posted December 19, 2018 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

            I found that in Australia they also call one variant of Jewfish, the West Australian Dhufish (which I think is a Pearl Perch rather than a grouper) which implies a non semitic origin.
            Dhu seems to be a common name for the fish (as in ‘going Dhu fishing’) and there are aborigines with Dhu as a surname.

            However it is called Glaucosoma hebraicum, though that might just be from passing the name Jewfish into Latin from a false relation in English

            (similar to Jew’s harp which was possibly originally Jaw’s harp because it was held between the teeth or possibly Jeu from the French for toy. Sometimes called the juice-harp. Possibly assigned as Jewish to suggest an Eastern origin, though the actual instrument itself turns up in many other countries, anywhere but in Jewish culture itself seemingly).

  3. Posted December 19, 2018 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Jesus, like this turd needs more attention and mechanisms to keep his putrid name alive.

    • Posted December 19, 2018 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      no the Trump in a Turd was in an illustration in Nature two weeks ago

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I guess everyone gets taken for a ride these days. All the people who check into a for profit college or maybe Trump U. Many more people who will stay with facebook and see their information passed on to everyone facebook does business with. Maybe all of us in the U.S. for having this jerk for a president. Now we name species after a con.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 21, 2018 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

      I mis-read that last sentence and thought “Trump has had his face put on the coinage?”

      Then I thought – “I didn’t expect that before his third term.”

  5. Mark R.
    Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I can see this scenario (only half joking):

    Person 1: did you hear? another amphibian, this time a salamander, went extinct.

    Person 2: man, that sucks. What was its name?

    Person 1: it was named after Donald Trump.

    Person 2: good riddance!

  6. Christopher
    Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Because this is a family site, I won’t say how I feel about this bit of asinine juvenality. But I will say this makes a mockery of binomials.

  7. Kevin
    Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Is it possible to impeach a salamander? Maybe it would work as voodoo!!!

  8. Posted December 19, 2018 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    And this is why the International Astronomical Union has extremely strict rules on naming astronomical objects.

    The only classes of objects that can be named after living people are comets, which are named after their discoverer(s), and asteroids, which can be named *by* their discoverer(s) after other people. Even then, the IAU explicitly excludes political and military leaders until 100 years after their death, and not even then in the case of controversial figures. You will not find an asteroid named after Tr*mp.

    • Mark R.
      Posted December 19, 2018 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Interesting. Thanks for the lesson on naming astronomical objects.

      • David Harper
        Posted December 20, 2018 at 3:34 am | Permalink

        The IAU recently relaxed its rules on naming stars after people, so “Barnard’s Star” is now an official IAU-approved designation for a faint red dwarf star in the constellation Ophiuchus. It is named after the American astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard (1857-1923).

        Barnard wasn’t the first person to observe it, but he did discover that it has the highest proper motion of any known star. In non-technical language, its position against the background of more distant stars is changing very quickly, because it’s one of our closest neighbours and because it is moving through space at rather a high velocity.

        Barnard discovered its high proper motion a century ago, and fellow astronomers immediately named it “Barnard’s proper-motion star”. Pretty soon, that was shortened to “Barnard’s Star”, which was its popular but unofficial name until the IAU adopted it as a formal designation in 2017.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 21, 2018 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

          I’m slightly surprised to hear that. I knew of Barnard’s star for … does America have “donkey’s years”? But that the name was informal is news to me. Sounds like there is some taxonomic tidying up to do in the depths of the IAU’s databases. Then again, with a couple of giga-entries to be tidied up and corrected with the data coming out of the GAIA telescope, they’ve got some tidying up to do and they know it.

  9. Posted December 19, 2018 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Hilarious, we herpetological systematics do have a sense of humor. I named the first known fossil chameleon lizard from Europe (Miocene) and named it after King Charles the IV of Prague (chamaeleo caroliquarti) but tht was to honor his 600th birthday

    However, caecilians (apoda) are NOT salamanders. Caecilians are one of three living Orders of Lissamphibia; monophyly of each of the three is well established; monophyly for the three orders comprising a clade is well established. Synapomorphies for apoda + caudata (salamanders) with anura (frogs) the 3rd group do exist, but there are also good synapomorphies for apoda + anura with caudata the 3rd group

    • Posted December 19, 2018 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I changed the post a while ago; notice that salamanders have become “amphibians”, which is correct. I am red-faced, but a herper emailed me with the right info.

      • Posted December 19, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, Jerry

      • Kevin
        Posted December 19, 2018 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        I found this in Wikipedia:
        “All present-day salamander families are grouped together under the order Urodela.”

        This classification thing is a bit complicated though: clades and orders an’ stuff.
        Couldn’t we just use “kind” for everything and forget about that evolutionary tree: it keeps running off the edge of the page. Just list everything in alphabetical order like a phone book.

  10. Kevin
    Posted December 19, 2018 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    (On the phone)

    I’ve found a new animal.
    …..
    It’s completely lacking in vision.
    No leg to stand on, but gets around anyway by twisting this way and that.
    Slimy, slithery and disgusting to contemplate touching or even entertain in close proximity.
    Relatively unresponsive to external stimuli but
    when triggered does respond with a small number of what appear to be largely conditioned or instinctive reflex actions.
    Uncertain prospect for survival. Could become extinct at any moment.
    …….
    What could I possibly call it?
    …….
    Donald who?

  11. Barry
    Posted December 19, 2018 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    So . . . .shall I be the only one who objects to calling a caecilian a salamander? Oh well, it’s just a taxonomic virtue signal anyway.

    • Barry
      Posted December 19, 2018 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, just read the same comment at #9.

  12. Diane G
    Posted December 19, 2018 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    sub

  13. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 19, 2018 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    Really, a caecilian seems far too harmless and inoffensive to be given a name like that.

    Couldn’t they find a hagfish or a liver fluke or…

    cr

  14. Harrison
    Posted December 19, 2018 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    I think there’s a few things wrong with this practice in general and this instance in particular. Firstly, I question how much of an insult it truly is to immortalize someone you don’t like in the scientific literature, and in this case it’s not even by being associated with a particularly odious animal. Secondly, although the animal will never know or take offense to it, the insult goes both ways.

  15. David Harper
    Posted December 20, 2018 at 3:40 am | Permalink

    On a more positive note, the distinguished naturalist Sir David Attenborough has a dozen or so species named in his honour, including an actual dinosaur and also an extinct marsupial lion that was the size of a kitten and which rejoices in the name Microleo attenboroughi.

  16. Kevin
    Posted December 20, 2018 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    I’m curious to know if anyone in the thread has been working in computer modelling of taxonomic classification.
    Complex datawarehousing/datamodelling is part of my professional work and I am thinking through how it might apply to evolutionary structures.

    Its not as simple as it might seem: nodes and trees get reclassified and grafted and names may be reassigned for example and, ideally the history of the classification should also be archived along with date information (the old classification should be retained because it refers to the history of academic documentation) etc.
    By human analogy, this is similar to a person’s attributes such as address or phone number or even legal name being changed: these attributes change with time and may be multiple (eg phone numbers).

    From the IT side, these attributes constitute what is called a slowly changing dimension and can be a major headache and difficult to model because it is date dependent. Beacause of date dependant information, the taxonomic tree on one day is different from one day to another.

    Any comments?

    • Kevin
      Posted December 20, 2018 at 5:48 am | Permalink

      typo:
      “the taxonomic tree is different from one day to another”

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 21, 2018 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

      There was a programme (sense : collection of work and projects) to produce a unified naming system based on DNA “bar-coding” several years ago, but I’ve not followed it’s progress. The idea was to produce a coding for the data in the bar code which would be unique at the time of identification of the species (or registration of it’s genome with Genebank/ Whoever), and would remain unique even if it’s part of the “tree of life” had a severe attack of the Splitters (footnote).
      I may be thinking of the BOLD system, but I only noticed it as a passing “hmmm, how’re they trying to do that”, and it went well over my informatics head. It was 5 to 8 years ago, as I recall, but it didn’t really get my interest.

      (footnote) An eternal conflict in taxonomy is between “lumpers” (who see a species with significant internal variation) and “splitters” (who see a dozen species with slight differences). In computing terms, this is vi versus EMACS but gloves-off.


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