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Name that species--After yourself, Purdue auction suggests

Naming your kid after you is one thing. But imagine if an entire species were named for you.

This week, Purdue University is auctioning off the rights to name seven newly discovered bats and two turtles, the Associated Press is reporting. The winners — who will shell out a minimum of $250,000 for at least one of the bats, a Purdue spokesman told ScientificAmerican.com — can link their own name or that of a pal to the animal’s scientific name.

"Unlike naming a building or something like that, this is much more permanent. This will last as long as we have our society," John Bickham, who co-discovered the nine species, told the AP.

The practice of binomial nomenclature dates back to the 18th century, when Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus began classifying organisms with their genus name and species — sometimes dubbing plants or animals with the names of scientists he disliked. But buying the name is a recent development that’s occurred only in the past three years, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In 2005, an online gambling Web site shelled out $650,000 for the naming rights to a Bolivian monkey, according to a Purdue press release. Conservation International, an Arlington, Va., nonprofit, auctioned the naming rights to 10 new fish species last year, raising $2 million, and the Scripps Oceanographic Museum in San Diego this summer auctioned the naming rights to aquatic creatures, the Trib said. (You can also “buy” a star with your name on it – but those outfits are generally not legit, Space.com has noted.)

The money from the winning bids will help pay for formally describing the nine new species in the scientific literature, and to preserve their habitats, Bickham told the AP. The winner of yesterday’s first auction – for a relative of the Little Yellow Bat, aka Rhogeesa tumida—is set to be announced before Christmas. The bat, found in Mexico, Panama, Guatemala and Nicaragua, is the smallest in the New World, weighing less than a tablespoon of water, but will cost the winning bidder at least a quarter million dollars. (For more on bats, check out our In-Depth Report.)

And don’t feel self-congratulatory about bidding. The Tribune recalls that when comedian Stephen Colbert learned earlier this year that an East Carolina University biologist had named a spider after rocker Neil Young, he quipped: "Hey, science, you're going to name a bug after this hippie and not me? I am extremely name-afterable."

So the biologist showed up on The Colbert Report. And waddya know: There’s now the Aptostichus stephencolberti species of spider.

(Updated at 1:20 p.m. Dec. 15 to correct name of East Carolina University from Eastern Carolina University.)

Image of Little Yellow Bat relative courtesy of John Bickham

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