Last December, the environmental group Rainforest Trust celebrated its 30th anniversary by auctioning off the rights to name 12 newly discovered species, including orchids, frogs, and an ant. The Virginia-based nonprofit group reported that the auction raised $182,500 for its conservation programs. The most valuable animal turned out to be a wormlike amphibian from Panama, which drew a winning bid of $25,000 from a British sustainable-building-materials company called EnviroBuild.
Shortly afterward, the company proudly announced the name it wanted to bestow on the blind amphibian: Dermophis donaldtrumpi. EnviroBuild said it chose it to bring attention to climate change, which President Trump is “blind” to. “Realizing the similarities between the amazing but unknown creature and the leader of the free world, we couldn’t resist buying the rights in your president’s honor,” Aidan Bell, the co-founder of EnviroBuild, told The Washington Post.
With more than 27,000 species at risk of extinction, auctioning off naming rights seems like a fairly harmless way to increase public awareness and raise much-needed funding for conservation efforts. But as the auctions continue—there are several a year at the moment, according to news reports—some scientists worry about the potential for overly commercial or offensive names. Once a name is recorded in the scientific literature, it will last forever unless declared invalid after further research. There’s also the possibility that assigning the wrong name might actually threaten a species’ survival, as in the case of a beetle named by a collector after Adolf Hitler in 1937 that is sought after by modern neo-Nazis.