Scientists have just officially christened Baracktrema obamai, a parasitic flatworm named after the United States’ current president.
According to the report marking the discovery of Baracktrema obamai, published in The Journal of Parasitology, this tiny worm lives in the blood vessels of the lungs of Malaysian turtles, where it can cause mere inflammation or even paralysis and death.
Despite the worm’s nasty habits, Saint Mary’s College biology professor Thomas Platt, the man who named the worm, says he actually did so to pay tribute to Obama. “This is clearly something in my small way done to honor our president,” Platt told the Associated Press.
And what was it about this worm that made Platt want to name it after Obama? “It’s long. It’s thin. And it’s cool as hell…I hold them in awe and with phenomenal respect,” Platt said, adding that these worms are “are phenomenally incredibly resilient organisms.”
At first blush, holding parasites in awe may only seem possible for people like Platt, scientists who’ve spent 30 years studying these tiny, reflexively reviled creatures. However, when you consider that seven out of ten species on Earth are parasites, that many of them perform truly irreplaceable functions, and that life on this planet would look vastly different without them, perhaps Platt’s awe becomes easier to understand.
And with this sense of awe comes great care in choosing the names for these creatures. Platt notes that people have paid thousands of dollars to have their name attached to a new discovery and that he himself has only ever invoked the name of the president “and other people I have a great deal of respect for.”
Of course, if you’ve been keeping score over the last few years, you’ll know that Platt is not the only scientist who’s named a new species after Obama. In fact, the president now has seven species named after him, including another parasite, a fish, an extinct lizard, a bird, a spider, and a lichen.
Only time will tell what’s next for Obama’s menagerie.