George HW Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are the three American masterminds behind the second Iraq war but the trio also has another thing in common: each has a bug named after them.
In 2005 three newly discovered species of beetle were named Agathidium bushi, Agathidium cheneyi and Agathidium rumsfeldi as two American scientists paid ‘tribute’ to their favourite politicians.
The story of bushi, cheneyi and rumsfeldi may have inspired Wang Chengbin, a Prague-based entomologist, who has just named a new beetle after Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The result? An all-out ban on any discussion of the insect whose official binomial is Rhyzodiastes (Temoana) xii.
The Chinese censors didn’t give a reason but it is probably a combination of wanting to clamp down on sycophantic gestures and fear that comparison to a tiny beetle is unflattering to the Chinese leader.
Wang, who told the New York Times, that he is “simply crazy on insects” doesn’t see how anyone could be offended. “They know nothing about entomology or taxonomy…[they] have no idea about the meaning of a biological name!” the paper quoted him as saying.
In the journal announcing the discovery he wrote: “The specific epithet is dedicated to Dr Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China, for his leadership making our motherland stronger and stronger.”
Wang says as well as wanting to honour Xi there is second reason he named the beetle after him: it eats rotten wood, making it a suitable symbol for a president who has made fighting corruption one of the hallmarks for his first term.
The beetle, which lives in the rainforests of Hainan province is also extremely rare. “So it’s a metaphor for Xi Jinping, a rare person you only encounter once a century,” Wang told AFP.
Wang say he arrived at the Latin name by following the rules on binomial nomenclature. The first two words relate to the beetle’s genus, and it is only the last part – the “xii” – that he had control over. Those letters stand for Xi’s surname with the extra “i” to denote the male possessive.
It might not look like much in Latin, especially given Xi’s surname has to be written with a small letter, so Wang came up with a grander sounding Chinese name – the Xi Clan Wolf-Carapace beetle.
In the wake of the news of the newly named beetle emerging and censors managing to squash all mention of it, netizens marvelled at the propaganda department’s overreaction. “Arse kissing quickly turns into arse kicking,” wrote one. However, some said they could see why Xi might have been offended. “This is an advanced way of defaming the president,” wrote one.
Perhaps scientists wishing to dedicate other discoveries to politicians should bear in mind the advice of the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature, the organisation which oversees the scientific naming of living organisms: check with the individuals and make sure they won’t be offended.
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