A gesture that might come across as terribly insulting to most is instead meant as an honor for the 44th President of the United States. Meet the Baracktrema obamai, a turtle parasite named after Barack Obama.

The parasitologist Thomas Platt has discovered a previously unknown turtle parasite, which he named after President Barack Obama. Platt is in fact, a distant relative of Obama, a fifth cousin, twice removed. Platt and Obama share the same ancestor,  a man named George Frederick Toot, who lived from 1759 to 1815 in Middletown, Pennsylvania. This is not the first time Platt has done something similar. He has discovered about thirty other parasites, many of which are named after friends and family.

Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama. Image credit: http://www.telemundo.com/

Examples of this habit include the Neopolystoma fentoni and the Molenius samueli parasites, which are named after Platt’s father-in-law and his graduate school advisor at the University of Alberta, in Canada, respectively. And this is not the first creature named after President Obama either.

Other critters named after the U.S. President include a trapdoor spider, the Aptostichus barackobamai, a species of lichen, known as the Caloplaca obamae, a fish, the Etheostoma obama, and even an extinct lizard, the Obamadon gracilis.

Even more surprisingly, this is also not the first parasite named after the current President of the United States.

Back in 2012, the hairworm species Paragordius obamai was named so because it was discovered twelve miles from where Obama’s father was raised in Kenya.

‘This is an honor, I swear!’

Thomas Platt explained his decision to name the parasite after Obama by stating, “it is a unique component of the diversity of life on this planet. Anyone should consider it an honor.”

Platt also commented on why it reminded him of the President, “it’s long. It’s thin. And it’s cool as hell.” It remains unknown what the human Barack Obama thinks about the christening of a resilient parasite after him.

Obama parasite
Baracktrema obamai. Image credit: Roberts et al.

About the B. obamai flatworm

This tiny parasitic flatworm, thin as a hair and two inches long, is not just any “ordinary” parasite, it represents a whole new genus, not just a new species — something that had not occurred with these kinds of turtle parasites in over twenty years, according to experts.

The B. obamai infects Southeast Asian Box Turtles and Black Marsh Turtles. Experts research these types of parasites as they have a distant relation to the flatworms that cause schistosomiasis, a devastating disease that kills between twenty thousand to two hundred thousand people yearly. However, they cause no harm to their turtle hosts.

Platt said that these parasites are one of the most resilient organisms in the world and that he holds these tiny but powerful creatures “in awe and with phenomenal respect.”

Platt’s study had fellow parasitologists Stephen “Ash” Bullard, Raphael Orélis-Ribeiro and Jackson Roberts, of the Aquatic Parasitology Laboratory at Auburn University in Alabama, as coauthors.

Their groundbreaking research was published in the Journal of Parasitology on August 2016 and is titled “New Genus of Blood Fluke (Digenea: Schistosomatoidea) from Malaysian Freshwater Turtles (Geoemydidae) and its Phylogenetic Position Within Schistosomatoidea.”

Source: The Washington Post