In honour of Black Friday, I figured I’d do a post about crass commercialism in science. I’ve discussed the many ways species get their names in the past. But today we’re looking at some examples of species named for sponsors. Their was a fine old tradition of naming species for the rich guy who coughed up the money, but the landscape looks a little different these days.
I suppose if you need to get to a lot of remote dig sites, there are worse sponsors than an airline. During one of the sponsored expeditions in 1996, Nicole Everede found a new species of birdlike herbivore. Patricia Vickers-Rich and Tom Rich ultimately named the new species Qantasaurus intrepidus. The actual species name is an ordinary enough “name it for a quality” type name. The genus though? Qantas is Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service. Unfortunately, genus names are not accepted in Scrabble so you’re still stuck playing “qi” when you have a Q without a U.
The sad thing is, these days new species are often endangered as soon as they’re documented. In an effort to raise money for conservation, a team of Bolivian scientists sold the naming rights to the highest bidder. The winner was an online gambling site, Golden Palace. They suitably Latined it up, naming the new species Callicebus aureipalatii.
The move did raise $650 000, so the local wildlife benefitted. Whether it had the PR habits the site was hoping for… well, we’re talking about it right now, aren’t we? I’m certainly not feeling the urge to go do any online gambling, but it did get the name out there.
We end with an example that is actually the opposite of crass commercialism. When scientists discovered a new species of snail near a limestone quarry in Malaysia, they realized that expansion of the quarry would drive it to extinction. IN an effort to get the Lafarge cement company to consider the impact of their actions on the very survival of the species, they named it Charopa lafargei.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find anything about the snail after its discovery in 2014 to see if the unusual tactic had any payoff. It’s still listed as critically endangered, at any rate.