Obamadon: Ancient, extinct lizard named after President Obama
What, you don't see the resemblance?
Mon, Dec 17 2012 at 10:37 AM
Photo: Artist Carl Buel's representation of the Obamadon (the blue lizard in the foreground) and other species of its time.
Meet Obamadon gracilis, a foot-long, insect-eating lizard that died out about 65 million years ago but still managed to get itself named after President Barack Obama.
The lizard — detailed December 10 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States — was named by a team of researchers from Yale and Harvard universities. "The Obamadon was probably a foot long, with these tall, slender teeth it used to eat insects and plant matter," lead author Nicholas Longrich of Yale Univeristy told U.S. News & World Report. He said the name came to him and his fellow researchers in 2008, "in the wake of the election when everything was all hope-y and change-y."
He also figured the name would have different meanings to different people. "I think everyone can find something to like in it — liberals will think it's an honor, conservatives can say, 'Well, it's some wretched extinct lizard.'" He said the name wasn't politically overt, just something fun, but they did wait until after the election to publish their paper, just in case Obama was not reelected. "It might have seemed like we were mocking it, naming a lizard that goes extinct after that, seemed kind of cruel," Longrich told the Boston Globe.
The researchers came across Obamadon while studying fossils from around the world for clues about the mass extinction of dinosaurs that followed the Chicxulub asteroid impact in Mexico 65 million years ago. The asteroid, according to the paper, affected not just dinosaurs but all manner of the world's lizard and snake species — much more so than previously believed. They estimate that 83 percent of the world's snake and lizard species at the time died out after the asteroid hit.
Fossils for the newly described lizard were actually discovered way back in 1974 in Montana and Wyoming but incorrectly classified as a different species. The researchers corrected that, describing Obamadon gracilis as "a small polyglyphanodontian distinguished by tall, slender teeth with large central cusps separated from small accessory cusps by lingual grooves." Obamadon means "Obama's teeth," while gracillis means "slender." In their paper, the researchers also identify eight other new species, none of which are named quite as creatively.
This is actually the third species named after President Obama, who also has a fungus and a fish named in his honor.