In the early days of species discovery, naturalists named everything they could after themselves as a mark of discovery. Recently, though, creating a publicity campaign around naming of a species has become a common way to try and raise awareness of specific species and for science in general. An entomologist named a species after Steven Colbert. This little girl discovered a pterosaur and named it after herself. And last week, the public voted and named a hypothetical placental ancestor Shrewdinger.
Shrewdinger is not, in fact, a real animal. Or, at least, it hasn’t actually been discovered. A group of researchers got together and tried to come up with what the earliest placental mammal looked like, based on what we know about evolution, mammals and placentas. This creature (now named Shrewdinger, thanks to you) is a small, insect-eating critter with a furry tail. Though naming the creature Shrewdinger was just a funny stunt, dreaming up the hypothetical animal took serious research, published in the journal Science.
The American Museum of Natural has a little video on the species:
But while the poor little critter had a Science paper dedicated to it, it had no name. So the Museum of Natural History teamed up with Radiolab to remedy that situation. They ran a contest to name the little beast. All told, they got over 1,000 submissions and ran six weeks of voting to figure out what this little fantasy creature should be called.
If you’re wondering why Shrewdinger doesn’t get a Latin name, Radiolab explains that it’s not even allowed a Latin moniker because, well, it’s not real:
According to The Science Rulebook, no fossil = no fancy name. And it wasn’t given a nickname either, because when you’re a scientist saving the world, who has the time?
And so they turned to you, dear internet users, to figure out just what to call the poor nameless ancestor. And you decided on Shrewdinger.
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