Greta Thunberg's Rain Frog

I saw this story on Mongabay:
In Panama, a tiny rainfrog named after Greta Thunberg endures (mongabay.com)

Well, it’s a nice gesture, and I can potentially see some conservation benefit in that Greta Thunberg has a fan base who might be drawn to protect the habitat where a frog named after their heroine is found.

On the other hand, we have had controversy in these forums before about naming a species after an individual human, especially an individual human who is not an Indigenous inhabitant of the region where the species occurs, and may never even have been there. (In following Greta’s travels in 2019, I don’t remember any reference to her visiting Panama.)

Also, the frog’s name was not chosen by the researchers, but by the winner of an auction for the naming right. I’m not sure I approve of commodifying the identity of a species – this time, it so happened that the winner named it after an important figure in conservation; but who’s to say that the winner of the next auction might not name it after Lady Gaga or Rush Limbaugh?

In short, I have mixed feelings about this news.

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I think Greta is great, albeit the subject of a lot more pressure than a woman her age should really be under.

I think auctioning off scientific names is horrific. I’m more worried about the next one being some megacorp superconglomerate. Gross.

And as for naming species after humans, eh, I don’t think it should be a thing but I’m not going to cry over it.

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Personally, I’m not as miffed about it since the money from that can go to incredibly valuable conservation causes, but I’d just like to point out an particularly odious example that I really don’t want to happen (slight reference to politics).

Around 3 years ago, a rare Dermophis caecilian, also from Panama, had its name auctioned for description. The rights were quickly bought up by a renewable energy company, who - no joke - decided to name it Dermophis donaldtrumpi. Apparently, the company saw this opportunity to name a species as nothing more than a throw an epic roast in Trump’s direction, the joke apparently being that the caecilian is blind and lives underground. I don’t get how anyone would get the rights to name this beautiful creature and literally just turn it into a roast. Thankfully, I haven’t heard any news on this since then, nor have any taxonomic authorities recognized it, so I hope that this proposal was shot down. But it really shows the pitfalls of auctioning off species names.

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Overall, I agree with some of the thoughts here. It sometimes seems in these cases that other people choose the names, so I never really thought about the idea of preventing it. I think naming a species after Greta is okay though. Also for some naming species after some other people, although it fits best when there’s a connection between the person and the species. Overall this probably only affects a small amount of species.

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Species names have been named after human individuals for most of the history of taxonomy, from day 1 up to this day. In the past, researchers would often name them after themselves, but at some point in the 20th century, this trend became frowned upon in favor of naming it after another individual as an honor. I don’t see much harm in the practice, except that it would be nice to have a more descriptive title that can point to the species’ physical characteristics that differentiate it. This is another trend, and I do hope it takes hold, but honorary naming titles are still prominent.

The auction concept is new to me, but thank goodness in this case it actually went to a seemingly deserving individual.

What’s interesting is that discoverers do literally have ultimate say in naming their discovery, taking for example, “Sonic Hedgehog,” a signaling protein in animals.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaga_(plant)

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Oh well, I think its fun. Science is mostly a pretty “dusty” business and it for sure will mostly stay that way for understandable reasons and its fine. But I don’t mind the few instances where the scientists managed to take the stick out of… Ya where ever… and have a little fun or take a fresh approach. I actually enjoy those times very much (e.g. writing a paper that is a bit different and allows to let the personality of the scientist to be presence or being creative with names). And having shared my office with a taxonomist for a while, it seems that it can be sometimes very difficult to find a suitable name for the 20th tiny spider, so it might be nice to shake it up a little every now and then.

I am not sure, if this tradition still stands, but new molluscs where often named after the cats of scientists. Just a little fun, because why not.

I will for sure never forget that little spider I heard from the first time on a conference some years ago - Aptostichus angelinajolieae. So at least this name sticks, even if I dont remember too much else. And I just love the two Anelosimus species A. dude and A. biglebowski.

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If I recall correctly, Lady Gaga has her own genus of ferns. I think I read somewhere that they named them after her because they were flamboyant or very unique, or something along those lines. I think it’s cool. Some aren’t, like stuff named after H*tler or other people so I see why it could be concerning to think anybody could name something after anybody. I’d be a lot more concerned about other people than Lady Gaga, though. I think she’s pretty darn cool.

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There’s nothing new in naming taxa after people, be they celebrities, authors, other scientists, or obscure collectors who happened to find and donate the type material. This frog could just have easily been named after a Harry Potter character, a Lord of the Rings character, or Barack Obama. At least in this case the majority of authors are Panamanian, and the money raised by auctioning the name will go towards land protection. “Thunberg’s rain frog” as a common name isn’t much different from “Cassin’s finch”, or “Jackson’s chameleon” or thousands of other honorary common names, and for all her acclaim, eventually the name Greta Thunberg will fade into relative obscurity just as John Cassin or Sir F. J. Jackson have before her. That said, I am glad that in this case it wasn’t named the Goldenpalace.com frog.

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Corvus jeffbezosii

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As I’ve stated elsewhere, I’m very firmly against any species being named after an individual, no matter how good or influential a person the may be.

Unfortunately, the ‘auctioning off’ of names is a long established principle (organizations or people who sponsored expeditions often got species ‘found’ named after them even back in the 1800s) and people sometimes name a species, especially an endemic, after an organization or person in an an effort to keep them from exterminating said species (I have a friend who works in limestone karst ecosystems who does this sometimes).

I disagree with this wholeheartedly (I’m in a situation where I could have “flexed” a bit and gotten several species named after me).

Howerve, the situation is as it is, we have the GoldenPalace. com monkey (the Plecturocebus aureipalatii - added a space because I didn’t want to link to the casino) sponsored by a Las Vegas casino stupid things like Dracorex hogwartsia, named after Harry Potter lore, “Hobbits” (Homo floresiensis) and more.

Given the larger picture, I don’t mind something being named after Greta nearly as much as I mind some of the other names.

Also, there are a lot of us who have been raising alarms about climate change and such for far longer than Greta has been alive. Good on her for getting attention, but it is also kind of ridiculous as it’s not even remotely a new message, nor is the fury about it new either. She just hit at the right time to become a media darling, but there were many before her with equal passion, even at her age.

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Didn’t a jumping spider get named “Sparkle Muffin” by researchers a few years ago?

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Found it:
https://www.cnet.com/news/two-adorable-new-spiders-found-meet-sparklemuffin-and-skeletorus/

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… I am more worried about giving species some common name. In the Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), for example, there are many “abbreviata”, “abdominalis” or “aberrans” etc etc. Sometimes, the same author gives away the same species name several times, like “abdominalis Walker” exists 4x or “abdominalis Moore” is 4x as well. That fact, combined with the sometimes random affiliation to a genus name (which may change several times during 100-200 years), can be very misleading and often results in confusion. - Therefore, I actually appreciate creativity in new names! :wink:

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When choosing names of people, I would prefer to have a rule not to use names of convicted criminals.
I personally don’t like naming species according to politicians (even those I sympathy with) but I find it fair to give this naming right to the taxonomist who described the species. It seems that it is often overlooked but species description is substantial work so I’m not too worried that people will start spamming the nomenclature with terrible names - taxonomists giving inappropriate names are jeopardizing their reputation which typically jeopardizes their career so I think there are good safeguards in place.

Taxonomists almost never use their own names for species names because it is almost universally considered extremely lame. It can happen but such people again jeopardize their reputation (which is for a scientist typically the ultimate reward) so there is a nice natural safeguard in place.

I think the auctions almost never result in giving the winner the right to give any name - the taxonomists (almost) always keep the right to reject the suggestion. If not, the taxonomists deserve the shame, not a casino or tobacco company.

If all the above fails it actually does not matter too much - scientific name is primarily an ID which is ideally descriptive, memorable, not insulting, not extremely complicated but the only essential feature is that it is unique. Also, by naming a species, the taxonomist or the person whose name is used does not claim ownership of the species.

I’d love to see the attention to name being rather directed to the species itself.

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At the species level I don’t think it really matters honestly. It is impossible to come up with a naming standard that is descriptive or accurate enough, and considering a lot of species are named when little is known about location, host plant/species, sex (or if it’s actually even new) etc, it is better to be general instead. One person’s ethical boundary is another’s baseline, so no point trying to argue that one either really.

The name is just an identifier, it could be SL7+3Cu_aa5y22cXX. It could be ‘Ralph is the best scientist eva.’ As long as it’s written down and used it does its job, even if a lot of us might think it silly.

Argue later if it should change using the formal bodies for the process. Until a time as we can ask the creatures what they might like to be called themselves, they get what they’re given :p

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Auctioning species naming rights has become more common, and there are some good articles out there that discuss pros/cons as well as including some of the example others have brought up and the reasoning behind them. Here’s two (but there are others):
https://undark.org/2019/04/10/nomenclature-auctions-bidder/
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/06/science/species-naming-auction-rainforest-trust.html

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@Ajott The Dude abides!
I don’t really care about the use of silly names. As mentioned, it does add some fun to what can be seen as a dull endeavour. Physicists have been doing it for some time.
I had not heard about the auctioning of rights to a name. Firmly against that. Adding money to the equation is a good way to start corruption, profit motive, and restricts naming rights to individuals and organizations with money. I could never win the rights to a name, so those of us with less wealth would be eliminated from competition.

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Aside from this new frog, she already has a beetle, two snails and a spider (Nelloptodes gretae, Craspedotropis gretathunbergae, Opacuincola gretathunbergae, Thunberga greta), so at least five species and a genus honour her. Then there are people like David Attenborough, with at least four times that many.

I’m with you in that I prefer traditional descriptive names, and am very much in favour of honouring local people of significance. But there are so many new species being described (more than one every 30 minutes)… In invertebrates, one single paper may describe 20 or 30 or 40 new species in one go. I don’t think that also naming species after people like Greta is necessarily bad as long as it’s not to the exclusion of recognising less famous local conservationists.

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I don’t think naming matters. If they can make money for conservation, then they should auction off the rights. The frog literally couldn’t give a damn less what we name it. That’s all just human vanity.

To quote Shakespeare: “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Or Gertrude Stein, if you wish: “A rose is a rose is a rose.”

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