Newly discovered moth species shares striking resemblance with Trump

By on January 23, 2017
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Blame it on the blazing blonde coif.

When Vazrick Nazari, an entomologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, took a good look at a newly discovered species of twirler moth he was describing, he could not help noticing the bright yellow scales that sit like a cap atop the insect’s tiny head.

The feature brought to mind the signature hairstyle of a certain soon-to-be U.S. president. Based on this uncanny resemblance, Dr. Nazari dubbed the species Neopalpa donaldtrumpi.

In a scientific paper published on Tuesday in the open access journal ZooKeys, Dr. Nazari wrote that he hoped the honour would highlight “the need to continue protecting fragile habitats in the US that still contain many undescribed species.”

On the week of Donald Trump’s inauguration and with conservationists expressing concerns about the president-elect’s commitment to the environment, the media got the point. The irony that the range of the new species straddles the Mexico-U.S. border along with the moth’s “comparatively small” male genitalia – pulled directly from Dr. Nazari’s description – only made the story more delicious. And that, in turn, has made it an unlikely test of the Canadian government’s much-touted policy of allowing federal scientists to speak openly about their work.

Whatever Mr. Trump thinks of having a species named after him, the conservation message that comes with it and the possibility that the honour will be perceived as a slight is a delicate matter for the Trudeau government, which is trying to establish a working relationship with Mr. Trump’s White House.

The paper was published without a reference to Agriculture Canada, and Dr. Nazari was described is the accompanying notes as “unaffiliated.”

Dr. Nazari himself appeared to be concerned by the possible reaction of the politicos – to the point that he dismissed a reporter’s call on Wednesday by saying, “I’m under pressure not to do interviews” before hanging up the telephone.

That created a spot of bother for the Liberal government, which takes a certain amount of pride in its “unmuzzling” of government scientists after years of significant restrictions on media interactions under the Conservatives.

When asked about the “pressure” being applied on Dr. Nazari, Patrick Girard, a spokesman for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, said in an e-mail that “conducting media interviews is a personal decision taken by the scientists themselves.”

A government source followed up with a phone call to stress that was the case. Dr. Nazari “declined to speak himself,” the source said. “That was a decision that he made. Nobody told him not to do it.”

And by the end of the day, even Dr. Nazari admitted that he was just tired of media questions about a moth that might share some physical characteristics with the man who is about to occupy the Oval Office.

“I am under no pressure whatsoever,” he said in an e-mail. “I think enough attention has been paid to this little moth, and I don’t feel like doing interviews.”

Researchers were alerted to the moth’s existence in the form of a specimen collected in 2011 on Santa Cruz Island in California. When its DNA was analyzed, a unique sequence turned up that set it apart from another closely related species. Many more specimens were later collected in California and Arizona.

The moth is tiny, with a wingspan of only 7 to 12 millimetres, but it stands out thanks to its contrasting wing patterns and a conspicuously yellow cap. In his description, Dr. Nazari writes: “The discovery of this distinct micro-moth in the densely populated and otherwise zoologically well-studied southern California underscores the importance of conservation of the fragile habitats that still contain undescribed and threatened species.”