Baracktrema obamai: Parasitic flatworm laying eggs in turtle lungs named after US president

© Eric Piermont
A new species of parasitic flatworm infecting turtles in Malaysia was named after outgoing US President Barack Obama. The scientist who discovered the worm says he has already named a number of species after people he “admires.”

Baracktrema obamai was discovered in two species of freshwater turtles, the black marsh turtle (Siebenrockiella crassicollis) and the southeast Asian box turtle (Cuora amboinensis).

The worm is so unusual that the research team proposed giving it not only its own species, but also a new genus, which is the first time it has been proposed for this group of turtle parasites in 21 years.

The new species is believed to be the ancestor of the flatworms, commonly called blood flukes, that cause the deadly disease schistosomiasis.

Scientists discovered clusters of the parasite eggs in small vessels of turtle lungs, although how exactly they get outside to hatch is yet to be discovered.

The newly-discovered species was found by Thomas R. Platt, who spent decades studying turtle viruses before retiring recently from St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. He said he was inspired to name the worm after President Obama when he discovered that he and the US head of state were distant relatives.

“I have named a number of species after people I admire, from my father-in-law, my Ph.D. adviser, and good friends who are academics and/or amateur naturalists,” Platt said. “Baracktrema obamai will endure as long as there are systematists studying these remarkable organisms.”

A paper describing the new discovery was published in the Journal of Parasitology.

President Obama has seven other species named after him, including another parasite, a trapdoor spider, an extinct insect-eating lizard and a fish.