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Australian fossil named after Obama, supporter of science

Alex Horton, June 21, 2018 7:00PM Kids News

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Former US President Barack Obama is a passionate believer in the importance of science and also has distinctive-looking ears. Picture: Getty media_cameraFormer US President Barack Obama is a passionate believer in the importance of science and also has distinctive-looking ears. Picture: Getty

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A new fossil found in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges has been named after Barack Obama. And though this celebrates the former US President’s commitment to science, the name was also partly chosen because it reminded scientists of his ears.

Obamus coronatus is a disc-shaped animal that lived about 550 million years ago.

The Obama part of the name is followed by a Latin* word meaning “crowned” for the wreathlike* shape found imprinted* on a lush* sea floor that is now a mountainous desert.

The ear-shaped Obamus coronatus fossil and Attenborites janeae, both found in Flinders Ranges, SA. Picture: University of California
media_cameraThe ear-shaped Obamus coronatus fossil and Attenborites janeae, both found in Flinders Ranges, SA. Picture: University of California

Another new animal discovered in the amazingly well-preserved fossil bed is Attenborites janeae, named in honour of the naturalist* and television host Sir David Attenborough, lead researcher Mary Droser, an Earth Sciences professor at the University of California, said yesterday.

While the names were chosen for both men’s passion for science, Professor Droser said, Obamus coronatus first reminded researchers of Mr Obama because it looks like an ear — one of the former President’s distinctive* traits*. The immobile*, soft-bodied creature was between 0.5cm and 2cm across and embedded* in a mosslike carpet on the seabed.

Then-President Barack Obama and Sir David Attenborough talk about science and nature at the White House, Washington, US in 2015. Picture: supplied
media_cameraThen-President Barack Obama and Sir David Attenborough talk about science and nature at the White House, Washington, US in 2015. Picture: supplied

Prof Droser said the findings in South Australia were a big step in better understanding the ecosystem* containing some of Earth’s earliest multicellular* organisms and will help show where and how the creatures lived in a time before predators roamed the seas.

Prof Droser and her colleagues have searched the Flinders Range north of Adelaide for 20 years and have only just discovered these new creatures, recently announcing the findings in the Australian Journal of Earth Sciences.

In 2016, scientists named a worm that feeds off turtles after Mr Obama. That same year, in a more glamorous moment, a marine biologist discovered a new kind of colourful fish, calling it Tosanoides obama.

Etheostama Obama, another type of fish named after former US President Barack Obama. He has several animals named after him, including three fish. Picture: supplied
media_cameraEtheostama Obama, another type of fish named after former US President Barack Obama. He has several animals named after him, including three fish. Picture: supplied

Attenborites janeae, shaped and grooved liked a raisin, may have floated in the ocean, Prof Droser added. The shapes of both Attenborites janeae and Obamus coronatus are very distinctive.

“There is nothing like (them). That’s fun. That’s really different,” she said.

The fossil bed where they were found is rich in natural treasures. It was nicknamed “Alice’s Restaurant Bed,” after an Arlo Guthrie song called “Alice’s Restaurant” and its lyrics: “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.”

Prof Droser worked with colleagues Peter Dzaugis and Scott Evans and with Jim Gehling from the South Australia Museum. Her two children, Emily and Ian Hughes — keen scientists themselves — also helped.

Another vital person was Jane Fargher, who co-owns the property where Attenborites janeae was found and is recognised in the name along with Sir David Attenborough.

This story was originally published in the Washington Post

It’s tricky coming up with names for new species. This scientist needed help from children

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GLOSSARY

Latin: an old language that is still used for scientific naming

wreathlike: like a ring of flowers or branches

imprinted: pressed into it

lush: thriving, with lots of plants

naturalist: expert in nature

distinctive: particular or typical

traits: a feature of that thing

immobile: doesn’t move

embedded: fixed

ecosystem: community of living things

multicellular: complex, with more than one cell

LISTEN TO TODAY’S STORY

QUICK QUIZ

1. How long ago did Obamus coronatus live?

2. Name three things that helped scientists choose the name Obamus coronatus?

3. What is the fossil called named after Sir David Attenborough?

4. Name two other creatures named after Barack Obama.

5. Describe Attenborites janeae and where and how it lived.

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

You are the curator at a museum where the fossil named after Mr Obama is about to become an exhibit. Write a short explanation that will go on the exhibit label so that visitors to the museum know what they are looking at. Make sure you include: the name of the species, who found it, where it was found, when they believe the species lived. Include any other information you believe is interesting. Draw a picture of the fossil on the label.

Curriculum links: English, Science

Time: Allow 20 minutes

Extension: Barak Obama and David Attenborough had a newly discovered species named after them to acknowledge their commitment to science. Chose another scientist (present day or from history) who you feel has made a significant contribution in the world of science and think of a name a new species could be named in honour of this person.

Why did you choose this person? What impresses you about their work in, or commitment to science?

Time: Allow 30 minutes

Curriculum links: English, Science

VCOP ACTIVITY

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many wow words or ambitious pieces of vocabulary that you can find in yellow. Discuss the meanings of these words and see if you can use them orally in another sentence.

Curriculum Links: English, Big Write and VCOP

QUESTION: What would you name the Obama fossil if you had found it?

Explain your answer using full sentences.

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