Help Name New Species of Deep-Sea Worms
Jessica Crawford | May 16, 2011
Photograph of live Vrijenhoekia n.sp. Scanning electron microscopy of prostomium (head) of Vrijenhoekia n.sp. Pleijel, 2008.
Celebrate World Ocean Day by helping Birch Aquarium at Scripps and researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography name two new species of deep-sea marine worms. One name will be selected from the public at large and another will be chosen from a K-12 school.
Suggestions can be submitted through May 25 on Birch Aquarium's website or at the aquarium during its monthly SEA Days event on May 21. Scientists from the Scripps Marine Invertebrate Phylogenetics Lab, which identified the new species, will select three finalists for each worm. Beginning May 30, the public can vote for their favorite names online or at the aquarium during a pre-World Ocean Day celebration on June 4. The chosen names will be revealed online and at the aquarium on World Ocean Day, June 8, and will become the official scientific name of the species.
Scripps scientists, in association with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, discovered the worms living upon whale carcasses that had fallen to the ocean floor off Monterey, Calif. These "whale falls" spawn unique communities of marine animals that can feed off the carcass for decades. The worms, which measure only a few centimeters in length, are part of the family Hesionidae. Only 10 hesionids have been described from the deep sea, and only one has been described from a whale fall. In total, Scripps scientists discovered six new species of worms on whale falls.
Traditionally, the person who first describes a newfound plant or animal is entitled to name it, but Scripps is inviting the public to share in the process. Naming a species is the exciting culmination of years of work and collaboration, and specific guidelines exist for how to name a new species. According to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, a species must be given a Latin binomial—a name consisting of two parts (a genus term and a species term)—and a researcher must publish an official description of the species in scientific literature. The public is being asked to follow these naming guidelines, as well as provide a description of how they came up with their suggestion, which will be included in the published paper.
A whale fall off Monterey, Calif. Courtesy MBARI
Scientists can use geographic, descriptive, commemorative or even nonsense words to form a new species name. Names do not need to be direct Latin translations. For example, a species of fly from Humbug Creek, Calif. was named Apolysis humbugi. A scientist who loved "Star Wars" named a species of wasp Polemistus chewbacca.
"We are thrilled to involve the public in the exciting process that scientists follow when naming a new species," said Nigella Hillgarth, aquarium executive director. "We feel this opportunity is especially fitting for World Ocean Day, which celebrates diversity in the oceans."
First envisioned in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, World Ocean Day is an annual opportunity to honor our ocean and personal connection to the sea.
Click here for more information about the new deep-sea worms and to submit a suggested name.