Whatever you do, do not give them your name. It's corny
Horseflies are tough. Like mosquitoes, they need a meal of blood before they can reproduce. But even a horsefly, this specimen one was special. The first time Bryan Lessard was spotted, it was in the National Collection of Australian insects. As soon as he laid eyes on her round, golden abdomen, draped two translucent honey-colored wings, he knew it, "I said to myself:" If I want one day to give the name of Beyoncé in a species, it is now.""
Until then, the locals knew it as the "golden fly later" but had not been described scientifically. This is no longer the case. In 2011, the artist formerly known-in-the-name-of-fly-to-posterior-golden officially received its new taxonomic name: Scaptia beyonceae. With such a nickname, Lessard hoped it "would become an ambassador callipyge biodiversity."
Taxonomists do not always have a fine opportunity to express themselves. Science is undoubtedly a creative activity, which leads to new knowledge and new standards, which help us to understand ourselves and to understand the world. But getting there is sometimes difficult. With all these data, tedious and meticulous these steps, the scientific process can be completely stultifying and scientific journals studies do not really have the reputation of being great literature.
"The most creative part of the job"
But to name the new species? There, it's party. "Baptizing of things is probably the most creative part of our work taxonomist," said Lessard, scientific organization and Industrial Research of the Australian Commonwealth. It's not that there are no rules: all proposed names must follow the standards established by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. Zoologists apply code "to avoid chaos that would create a lack of regulation for naming animals," according to the FAQ code. "Ordinary languages evolve spontaneously in innumerable directions, but biological nomenclature must be an exact tool that conveys a specific meaning for people of all generations," specifies the preface to the first edition of the code, dating from 1961.
Fortunately, under those rules, there is room for maneuver. As is the case for haiku, name the species is an art of the restriction. For example, according to the code, "no author should propose a name that, according to what he knows or what he has reasonable grounds for believing, would be able to hit any manner whatsoever" . Yet scientists have managed to give beetles enthusiasts particularly infamous mushrooms on behalf of President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. And truthfully, Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, once gave a stinking weed the name of its main critics.
Part of science and poetry
Baptize a species "combines two types of writing among the most difficult: the technical description and the poem" wrote Judith Winston, curator emeritus at the Virginia Museum of Natural History who sits on the board of the ICZN, in his book Describing Species. But the game is worth the candle. If done properly, its sustainable brand can even leave Homo sapiens, E. coli and Tyrannosaurus rex are all taxonomic names that are found in the popular lexicon after being invented by a scientist. "What really helps is a 5 year old child is able to pronounce it, 'said Winston. Names, is power. "
Baptize species is not a hobby; This is crucial for identifying how species are interconnected from an evolutionary point of view and where they stand in the great web of life. As Winston said, "You can not run a planet with no inventory." Biodiversity is like a vast library in which only a small number of books is referenced: the more than 8 million species considered to be on earth, only a little more than one million have been described. "Imagine organize a library by removing the jacket and the reference of each book, said Lessard. It requires labels on books. It takes cash. "
Leave a trace
Modern taxonomy comes from naming two part system invented by Linnaeus, a Swedish naturalist, in the mid eighteenth century. The system has changed a bit, and as in all disciplines, there are the modernists and there are purists -in this case, those who say we should not combine Greek and Latin roots. "There taxonomists grumpy," says Winston.
Despite its importance, the taxonomy is an art too little appreciated. "It's not glamorous," says Winston. Daphne Fautin, professor emeritus at the University of Kansas and experts sea anemones, agrees. "It's a little perceived as an outdated science, Fautin said. But for us it is essential to use names to speak of species. "
You can give it the name of your child, your wife, your husband. But you do not give it your own name. It's corny - Judith Winston
For a scientist who officiated in anonymity for most of his career, finally have the opportunity to nominate a species is like peeing on a tree: it's a way of saying I was there . This is mine. To name a new species is like adding a room to the vast puzzle as to leave a trace in biodiversity and in scientific history.
As his daughter, a strawberry blonde
Fautin, for example, described different kinds and nearly 50 species of anemones Sea during his career. Like any taxonomist she has her favorite. For her, it is a creature she found at low tide in New Guinea, Fiji and Singapore. Fautin gave this particular anemone-which pulls on the yellow with red spots and is equipped with tiny capsules venimeuses- the name of her husband. The nickname is purely ceremonial: Anthopleura buddemeieri, she said, has no physical resemblance to the husband in question (who was sitting next to her during this interview).
It should be noted that in taxonomic circles, giving his name to a species is not kosher, says Winston. "You can give it the name of your child, your wife, your husband. But you do not give it your own name, she said. It's tacky. "Winston, who is a specialist in marine biodiversity and especially bryozoans, has given a species name of one of his daughters," because it had the tentacles of the same orange color as its hair. She is blond Venetian. " The name is Nolella elizae. "I do not know if she will forgive me or not," she adds.
A test of fighter
To name a new species, as you can imagine, is not easy. Stephanie Bush, cephalopods researcher in Monterey, California, learned to his cost. In 2014, Bush has discovered something strange while she was in charge of studies at the Research Institute Aquarium Monterey Bay: a mislabeled octopus. doe eyes, mimosa color and small enough to carapater in the palm of the hand, the gelatinous creature had been identified as a member of the species of grimpoteuthis; in fact, it was wrong. While scientists had collected specimens since 1990, no one had taken the trouble to baptize properly.
It is Bush who scooped the challenge. Fortunately, she had an idea. Well, it was rather a joke. "It was just something that kept running through my head," she said. The name she suggested: Opisthoteuthis adorabilis. When the show Science Friday from NPR [radio public service of the US, note] came to interview Bush about his recent work in May, she made them his idea. "It's just that they are cute ... yes ..." said she said. The interviewer was thrilled. You can probably guess what happened next. The name was soon stop being a joke trotting in the head of a scientist to become a viral sensation on the internet. Soon, almost everyone had heard about the octopus so adorable that his adorable character was about to be spent in Latin.
The aim is to draw attention to the animals that people are not necessarily exposed - Stephanie Bush
Great! If not ... that Bush had never given a name to a species. Suddenly she had to stick to it. And as Bush included, this is where the real work began.
The Zappa jellyfish
To enter the name of a new kind of process, we must first make sure that no one else has already discovered and identified this particular species -which involves checking the databases and museums all over the world. Then you have to collect enough specimens for measurements and adequate descriptions. Finally, write a descriptive article and have it published. The process can take more than a year.
Where is Bush? "Not far away, I'm afraid," she said. At this point, it gathers accurate measurements, keep the bodies octopus stiffened in bottles and dissects. "They generally cease to be cute when we start dissecting them," she said. But a name that hangs like adorabilis can help gain visibility, to interest people. "The goal is to draw attention to the animals that people are not necessarily exposed," Bush said.
The expert Ferdinando Boero jellyfish loved Frank Zappa since he had seen him in concert in the 1970s Boero was particularly infatuated with the idea of "conceptual continuity" that comes up in the pieces of Zappa: essentially, is the idea that even if one experiences reality as a series of individual pieces, they are in fact part of a whole transcendental. A concert can be composed of dozens of instruments and hundreds of notes. But what we hear, it is not each individual element but "high note".
An admiration mark
For years, the biologist, who lived in Genoa, Italy, wanted to meet the musician, he knew he was living in Los Angeles. But we can not just ring the doorbell of Frank Zappa. Boero then developed a plan: he would file his application to study the jellyfish in a marine station of the picturesque Bodega Bay in northern California. In 1981 he received a scholarship and immediately wrote a letter (a real letter, this was before e-mail) to Zappa (or rather his record, since he had no home address Zappa). In his letter, he said he would like Zappa to name a jellyfish in his honor.
There are millions of species, but it is all part of the diversity of life ... all branches of science are like instruments - Ferdinando Boero
It worked! After two weeks, Boero received a letter from Frank Zappa, written by his wife. It said that nothing would please her husband that having a jellyfish that bears his name. In the letter, she put the address of their house on Woodrow Wilson Drive in Los Angeles. Boero went, showed Zappa drawings of jellyfish and asked him what was the one he would like to see bear his name, from this time and for the rest of time. Giving the selection of Zappa's name Phialella happai, Boero is part of a long tradition of giving scientific species name people they admire -Think to very many creatures named in honor of the cultural treasure David Attenborough.
The big band of the sciences
Both have continued to cultivate a long relationship, which culminated last public concert of Zappa, which Boero attended Genoa in 1988. Zappa played there the song "Lonesome Cowboy Nando" -which, according Boero, spoke scientific and jellyfish. "It was strange and unbelievable," said Boero, who is now a professor of zoology at the University of Salento in Italy, which focuses in particular on biodiversity.
In Phialella zappa, Boero passion for biodiversity and that he had for Frank Zappa converged. For him, the idea of conceptual continuity finds expression in the sciences: "Biodiversity is the same, he said. There are millions of species, but it is all part of the diversity of life, all branches of science are like instruments. And the orchestra to play music. And the music we receive is great note "Naming a new species, is to remember that the creative business is what is at the heart of science. An exercise in imagination, approvingly sign to the complexity of life and the opportunity to add a new chapter to our library of knowledge. With a little luck, maybe we can even put a touch of poetry.