Wednesday 9 March 2022

Prehistoric vampire squid — known for sucking — named after President Biden

 President Joe Biden had quite the honor bestowed upon him recently when an extremely rare and primitive prehistoric ancestor of the vampire squid with a soft body and ten sucker-arms was named after him.

After being dug up in the 1980s in Bear Gulch, Montana, Syllipsimopodi bideni — as it is now called — reportedly sat in a drawer at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada for decades before one curious scientist decided to take a closer look. Upon re-examining the specimen, that scientist, Christopher Whalen, discovered what appeared to be ten preserved arms with small suckers attached to them.

Whalen, a paleontologist with the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, New York, was shocked by the discovery.

"That’s incredibly rare," he recalled to the New York Times.

The ten appendages, as opposed to eight, likely gave the species an advantage as a predator when it allegedly roamed the ocean 328 million years ago. The suckers helped it grasp rocks and other slippery surfaces.

Upon further evaluation, Whalen came to believe that the fossilized creature was not just another cephalopod but the oldest known ancestor of vampyropods, a group that includes vampire squids and octopuses.

Apparently inspired by President Biden's ascent to the presidency in 2021, Whalen decided to name the "primitive" squid-like creature after him.

"I wanted to somehow acknowledge the moment in a way that was more positive and forward-looking," he said, according to the Independent. "I was encouraged by the plans President Biden put forward to counter anthropogenic climate change, and his general sentiment that politicians should listen to scientists."

Whalen detailed the new species in a scientific paper published by Nature Magazine Tuesday, but submitted at the time of Biden's inauguration, noting the genus name was derived from the Greek word for prehensile foot.

"The name prehensile-foot is chosen because this is the oldest known cephalopod to develop suckers, allowing the arms, which are modifications of the molluscan foot, to better grasp prey and other objects," the scientist said in the paper. "The species name is to celebrate the recently inaugurated (at the time of submission) 46th President of the United States, Joseph R. Biden."

Interestingly, the discovery of what Whalen believes to be a new species is not without some controversy.

According to the Times, Christian Klug, a paleontologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland who was not involved with the research, expressed reservations about Whalen's paper. He argued the fossilized creature is not a new species but a unique representative of a known species of ancient cephalopods, called Gordoniconus beargulchensis.

"It’s the exact same size, the exact same age, the exact same locality, the exact same proportions and it’s just preserved a little bit differently," Klug told the Times.

As strange as it may seem, the creature is not the first species named after a U.S. president.

Scientists have reportedly named nine different species, including fish and lichen, after former President Barack Obama and former President Donald Trump was similarly honored with the naming of a moth and caecilian critter, the New York Post reported.

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