Ants: What's in A Name?

Genesis 2:19 says that "whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof." But Adam probably wouldn't have named a spider Calponia harrisonfordi, a sea snail Bufonaria borisbeckeri or an ant Proceratium google. Those are the work of environmentalists who've stumbled on an unlikely source of publicity and revenue: scientific species names. Lately, the monikers have become celebrity gifts so common you'd think they were showing up in swag bags. Sting has a tree frog, Harrison Ford has an ant as well as that spider and Mick Jagger has a snail, albeit one that hasn't aged as well as he has. (It's extinct.) In April, a dot-com paid $650,000 for the right to call the newly discovered Callicebus aureipalatii the monkey.

Now Brian Fisher, a leading entomologist, is opening up the privilege to regular folks. In exchange for a $10,000 donation, he'll let you christen one of the 600-odd new species of ants he's found in Madagascar. (For just $15,000 more, you can buy an entire genus, but act now--there are only four available.) Fisher is trying to map the distribution of ants all over Madagascar. Since they're "the glue that holds ecosystems together," he says, areas teeming with ants will likely be future sites for national parks. As for that Google ant, which Fisher named earlier this year, it's a bid for the search engine's attention. Fisher wants the company to partner with him in creating a database of all known animal life. The project's prospective name? "Zoogle."