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  5. Baseball and beetles: Toronto Blue Jays slugger inspires name of new weevil species

Baseball and beetles: Toronto Blue Jays slugger inspires name of new weevil species

Robert Anderson © Canadian Museum of Nature

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Image of Sicoderus bautistai.

A dramatic home run capped with a “bat-flip” by former Toronto Blue Jays player Jose Bautista has inspired the name for a new species of beetle.

Canadian Museum of Nature entomologist Dr. Bob Anderson discovered several new species of weevils while combing through museum collections in the Dominican Republic, Bautista’s home country. After some detailed analysis, one has now been enshrined in the scientific record as Sicoderus bautistai.

The tiny, shiny black insect with a long snout joins the more than 60,000 other known species of weevils.

While Anderson has been applying his scientific expertise for about 30 years, he is also an avid sports fan. In 2015, he joined his daughter to watch the playoff game between the Jays and the Texas Rangers that featured Bautista’s dramatic blast. The slugger’s heroics propelled his team to the American League final for the first time in 22 years.

“It was a statement home run and he punctuated it with an ‘in your face’ bat flip, which has now been immortalized in baseball lore,” recalls Anderson. “I had been working on describing some new weevils from the West Indies, including some from the Dominican Republic, so I began to think about naming a species after him. It was just one of those spur-of-the-moment decisions.”

Keith Allison © Keith Allison. Published under Creative Commons Licence: CC-by-SA 2.0

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Jose Bautista at bat against the Baltimore Orioles, Sept. 30, 2015.

Anderson is also Director of the museum’s Beaty Centre for Species Discovery and says he has named about 120 weevil species over his career, mostly after places, scientists or physical characteristics of the insect. In 2016, he named one after a favourite country musician, but Sicoderus bautista is the first he has named after an athlete. 

At the Beaty Centre, Anderson and his colleagues have many responsibilities. One of them is taxonomy, the science of naming and classifying organisms defined by shared characteristics. Species are always given Latin names.

Any new proposal for a name must abide by the International Code for Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), which sets rules for describing new species and making formal changes or additions to their names. A paper must then be submitted to a scientific journal, where it is peer reviewed by several colleagues.

While the ICZN requires the names be in good taste, scientists are still permitted to use their imagination. In fact, the discipline might demand this level of creativity, since species diversity is higher in insects than any other group.

“New species of insects are being discovered and named on a regular basis,” explains Anderson. “I think they’ve named about one million so far, but estimates are as high as 6 to 20 million total different species out there.” 

So, is there something about Sicoderus bautistai that relates to the player? “Not really in and of itself,” says Anderson. “I just wanted to recognize his contribution to baseball in Canada and that home run was likely his most memorable moment,” he explains.

About Sicoderus weevils:

Bob Anderson says that weevils are beetles specialized to feeding on plants, hence the long snout. There are more species of weevils than any other family group of organisms on the planet. Sicoderus weevils are found throughout the West Indies but more species live in the Dominican Republic than any other country. They are very distinctive and look somewhat like black, shiny ants. They seem to be found in native forests where they associate with various vines. 

Read Anderson’s scientific paper describing Sicoderus bautistai in the scientific journal Zootaxa