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Naming Rights for New Species a Time-Honored Tradition


Have you ever heard of "taxonomy"? Not "taxidermy," which is all about stuffing dead animals. Nor does "taxonomy" have anything to do with taxes.

It's the process of scientifically categorizing organisms and giving new species official, Latin-sounding names. The person who discovers a creature gets to name it, which accounts for scientific names like Megapnosaurus Ivie. That's a dinosaur named after a fellow named Mike Ivie. According to Mark Isaac, who categorizes biological names on his Web site, "Megapnosaurus" translates to "big dead lizard." So the full name means "Big Dead Lizard Ivie."

Sometimes new species are named for famous people. The Campsicnemius charliechaplini Evenhuis, for instance, is a fly, named after the silent-film comedian Charlie Chaplin. When this insect dies, it curls its middle legs under it in a fashion that resembles Charlie Chaplin's famous bowlegged walk with his cane.

These days, you don't have to discover an organism to earn the privilege of naming it. Wildlife organizations are auctioning off the rights to name species. Two years ago, the Wildlife Conservation Society raised $650,000 in an online auction to name a new Bolivian monkey. And just last week, a group called Conservation International got two million dollars for naming rights to ten newly discovered species of fish.

We don't yet know the winning bidders or the names chosen. But one of the fish is a freaky shark that crawls on the ocean floor using its pectoral fins. So we'd suggest the Latinized version of something like "There's gotta be an easier way than this to catch prey."

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