Scientists just named an ancient sea creature after Barack Obama

The strange ear-like fossil honors the former president’s passion for science. Thanks, Obamus.

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Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Jackson Ryan
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They named another one after me?

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One of the earliest complex lifeforms to exist on Earth has been named in honor of Barack Obama , continuing a strong love affair between scientists and the former president of the United States.

The ancient, disc-shaped animal has been dubbed Obamus coronatus and lived some 550 million years ago. While they may not be much to look at now, flattened and time-beaten, the Ediacaran organisms were about half an inch long, had a soft body and spent their entire lives in one spot, stuck to the ancient ocean floor.

The discovery, by researchers at the University of California-Riverside and the South Australia Museum, took place in a newly excavated fossil bed located in South Australia's Flinders Ranges that has been dubbed "Alice's Restaurant Bed", borrowing a lyric from the Arlo Guthrie song that says "you can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant." 


Obamus coronatus fossils in the sandstone fossil bed.

University of California-Riverside

Professor of paleontology Mary Droser, who led the research, told the Washington Post that the Obama moniker was bestowed upon the creature because it reminded researchers of an ear, something that avid Obama watchers and cartoonists will know was one of the former president's more obvious characteristics.

Alice's Restaurant Bed is teeming with prehistoric fossils from the Ediacaran Biota, a group of soft-bodied animals representing some of the earliest lifeforms on Earth. Scientists are able to visualize their traits and physiology in the Ranges due to their remarkable preservation in fine-grain sandstone.

Not only was Obama honored, but a second ocean floor dweller discovered in the same bed was named after famed naturalist Sir David Attenborough. That creature -- Attenborites janeae -- was even smaller, less than a centimeter across and shaped like an egg, complete "with ridges and grooves giving it a raisin-like appearance."

Speaking on the discovery, Droser said "I've never seen such a beautifully preserved bed with so many high quality and rare specimens, including Obamus and Attenborites."

Droser also commented on the importance of protecting the Flinders Ranges region, highlighting how these discoveries may help in the effort to obtain World Heritage Site status. In 2017, scientist Jim Gehling explained how the Ranges were full of prehistoric material, such as fossils, but that "most of the sites have not been discovered, let alone studied."

There has been a certain fascination with crowning newly-discovered creatures with the former president's name -- this being the 13th time he has received such an honour, the most of any US president. In 2017, some smiley-faced spiders received the Obama name. The year before, a blood fluke that parasitizes turtles was granted the honour. A diving beetle, birds and bees also bear his name.

For always being front of mind when scientists discover new animals, we should all say thanks, Obama.

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