Like sheepish college students after a boozy Saturday night, the scientists who recently named a prehistoric lizard after President Obama have an explanation. “We’re just having fun with taxonomy,” declared Yale paleontologist Nicholas R. Longrich, one of the researchers who discovered and named the foot-long species that disappeared in the same mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs 65.5 million years ago. One can easily imagine the scene: It was a long night at the library, they’d all declined a few too many Latin nouns, and the next morning there was a polyglyphanodontian named Obamadon gracilis. We’ve all been there.
But if the newly named lizard seems like a nerdy in-joke for scientists — there’s also a fish, Ethiostoma obama, and a lichen, Caloplaca obamae, named for the 44th president — it’s also probably an early warning to Obama’s conservative critics of what’s likely to come when he leaves office in 2017.