“It was calling to me,” said Jeff Goodhartz about an article he read in the San Diego Union-Tribune on April 6. The article detailed Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego’s latest response to severe budget cuts to the Scripps Oceanographic Collections – inviting the public to name a few newly discovered marine species acquired by the institution in return for a donation that goes to the Scripps Oceanographic Collections endowment.
“I always wanted to have a marine animal named after my family, but thought I would have to go on an expedition for that dream to ever come true,” said Goodhartz. “When I read about this opportunity in the Sunday paper, I called Scripps first thing Monday morning.”
Goodhartz spoke with Lawrance Bailey, Scripps senior director of development, who introduced him to two unidentified sea worms, both available to be named for $5,000 each. A Belize featherworm with tufts of neon blue and splashes of yellow grabbed Goodhartz’s attention immediately. And with that, a good-hearted Goodhartz became the first donor to Scripps’s new Name-a-Species program.
Greg Rouse, curator of the Benthic Invertebrate Collection at Scripps and creator of the Name-a-Species program, discovered Goodhartz’s polychaete worm of choice on a field trip to Belize in 2006. As is standard practice for identifying species, Rouse examined the worm’s anatomy with a variety of microscopes. Also in what is now becoming a routine procedure, some of the worm’s DNA was also sequenced. The characteristics of the worm were compared with those of all other likely close relatives and unequivocally suggest that the Belize featherworm belongs to a previously unrecognized new species.
The species must now be formally described and named in a scientific paper and submitted to a journal for review by other independent scientists. The description of the new species follows guidelines established by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. If the reviewers agree that the worm indeed represents a new species, then it will be published in the journal and the name will then be officially established. Rouse and colleagues are only offering new species to the Name-a-Species program in animal groups where they are considered the world experts, and so can be very confident that the species are indeed new.
Typically species are named for something that exemplifies them, a place, for someone who discovered it, or for a friend or colleague of the namer. Taxonomists do not name species for themselves.
Scientists have only documented a fraction of marine biodiversity, and Rouse is assured that there are many more species out there to be discovered and named.
“Taxonomy and its practitioners all over the world face the problem of how to name the tremendous variety of species still to be discovered,” said Rouse. “Through Scripps’s new Name-a-Species program, we are able to share the naming experience with someone who cares enough about nature and science to donate money to support it.”
For Goodhartz, this was his golden opportunity to “get his foot in the door of science.” The worm species he chose will be named goodhartzorum after his family.
Goodhartz, a math teacher from East San Diego County, grew up in a Bronx, N.Y. home that had 10 to15 fish tanks operating at any given time. His father raised fish and was an avid wildlife enthusiast. “My dad never graduated high school, but he knew all the Latin names of every fish,” said Goodhartz. “He would have thought this was real neat.”
“Someone will be able to Google ‘Goodhartz’ and this little worm will come up,” he said. “How cool is that? It jazzes me up, so I’m definitely getting my $5,000 worth.”
So far, there have been two other donors to Scripps’s Name-a-Species program. Nokia donated $10,000 to name a spiny worm from the kelp forests of La Jolla, Calif. The Latinized name will translate to mean “connecting people.” Another donor is planning to surprise her husband with a species named for him.