Want to name a sea slug? A nonprofit might let you.
To raise cash, some science and environmental groups will let donors name species for a fee.
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“Institutions that rely on federal funds to keep their research going are finding it much tougher to get that money and are having to get creative in either finding other sources or rethinking what kinds of research they do.”Skip to next paragraph
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At Scripps Institution, part of the University of California, San Diego, state cutbacks to research funding forced officials to eliminate the $300,000 in annual funding for its libraries of preserved collections, says Lawrance Bailey, senior director of development. The other alternative was to cut staff.
The libraries hold millions of sea creatures, rocks, and fossils. To keep the libraries functioning and accepting new specimens, the institution turned to fundraising. But thousands of preserved species “aren’t as sexy as funding an expedition or a project to address climate change,” Mr. Bailey says.
Enter the name-a-species program, despite the objections of some older Scripps scientists who “felt that this was selling out, that to name a species in return for a gift was tasteless at a minimum,” he says.
Scientists often name species after a trait like color or habitat, but they have a long history of naming species after each other – although self-naming is frowned upon – or for friends and family. Greg Rouse, professor of marine biology at Scripps Institution, says he recently named a sea worm Mesonerilla neridae after his girlfriend, Nerida. It may not sound like a traditional romantic gesture, but “she really liked it,” he says. “She was there when we discovered it.”
Famous people get their share of names too. For example, a pair of US entomologists named three slime-mold beetle species after George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, former secretary of defense. It wasn’t a joke: Mr. Bush called to thank one of the entomologists, who said he wished to honor the three men.
Several spiders are named for Orson Welles movies, while another spider has the cinematic name of Apopyllus now.
At Scripps Institution, naming rights to three worms have sold so far, one for $10,000 and two for $5,000. The buyers include a high school teacher, a local branch of a telephone manufacturer, and a woman who bought the name as an anniversary gift for her husband.
A total of $20,000 in donations may not seem like much. But Bailey isn’t discouraged. “Considering that we’re naming lowly invertebrates,” he says, “I think we’ve done OK.”