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Why So Many New Species Are Named After Celebrities

Scientists announced the discovery of 15 new species of spiders this week. They are native to the Caribbean, and were given taxonomical names that referenced several famous people, including Bernie Sanders, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Michelle Obama. Okay, if you had to come up with names for 15 new creatures at once, would you be more, um, scientific about it?  

Spider expert Ingi Agnarsson is a biology professor at the University of Vermont and lead researcher of the study, published in Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. He told me that scientists who discover a new species can basically name it whatever they want. For example, lots of scientists name new species after either a past scientist or a loved one, although it's frowned upon to name it after themselves.

"You have absolute freedom when you discover a new species. As long as you have the genus name right, you can name it whatever you want," Agnarsson said. The only real problem, he said, would be if a scientist was going to receive any sort of potential benefit from it. So don't expect any newly discovered species to be named walmarti anytime soon.

Often it comes down to the fact that so many new species are being discovered, classified, and written about that the only way to draw attention to yours is a stunt that will get the species a round of publicity. Read more about species naming in the modern era at Motherboard. -via Digg

(Image credit: Glynnis Fawkes)

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