April 21, 2005

Researchers Name Beetle After Bush

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Some may criticize President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for their handling of the war in Iraq, but this did not stop two former Cornell entomologists from naming a slime-mold beetle in honor of each of the politicians.

Quentin Wheeler, former professor of entomology and plant science and Kelly B. Miller, Ph.D. ’01, who recently labeled 65 new species of beetles, named three in the genus Agathindium after members of the U.S. administration: A. bushi Miller and Wheeler, A. cheneyi Miller and Wheeler and A. rumsfeldi Miller and Wheeler.

Wheeler said his decision to name the beetles was not political, nor was it based on the beetles’ physical features.

“When leaders do what they believe is the right thing and it is popular we owe them our thanks,” he wrote in an e-mail. “When they do what they believe is right and it is unpopular, they deserve our admiration.”

Challenged with the task of naming a large number of species, Wheeler, now the Keeper and Head of Entomology at the Natural History Museum in London, chose to honor citizens who he believed exhibited “greater character and resolve sticking to their principles in the face of stiff opposition.”

Wheeler’s choice to name the beetles after U.S. leaders has attracted media attention, not all of it positive. He says he has received hate mail from members of the “tolerant” left in America, which surprised him greatly.

“A century ago liberalism meant tolerance of different views and a willingness to approach discourse on campuses,” he said. “Now anyone who dares not conform to the politically correct left position is attacked and criticized. It’s amazing what we can learn about ourselves as a culture from a beetle name.”

Miller and Wheeler also named some of the new beetles species after their wives and an ex-wife, Darth Vader from Star Wars, the Aztecs, Pocahontas, Hernan Cortez, the Latin word for “strange” and the Greek words for “ugly” and “having prominent teeth.”

Wheeler’s favorite name, however is Agathidium gallititillo, a name that combines the Latin word for “French” and “tickle.”

For those who wish to see the newly discovered beetles, Wheeler said the Agathidium bushi is found in southern Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina; Agathidium rumsfeldi is in Oaxaca and Hidalgo in Mexico; and Agathidium cheneyi is found in Chiapas, Mexico.

The names of the new slime-mold beetle species all end in “Miller and Wheeler” because of rules established by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. The rule states the first word of a new species is its genus, the second word must end in “i” if it is named for a person and the last part of the name must include the name of the person or persons who first described the species.

Archived article by Olivia Oran
Sun Staff Writer