Wasp species named in honor of Bruins’ Tuukka Rask
The Bruins’ ace goalie, Tuukka Rask, will find his name on another prestigious roster this spring: a list of newly discovered wasp species from East Africa.
Rask’s insect namesake, Thaumatodryinus tuukkaraski, was discovered in the Teita Hills of Kenya by a team of entomologists that happened to include an admiring Boston sports fan who has closely followed his home teams despite moving to Africa more than 25 years ago.
Thus, Rask — who won the 2014 Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the National Hockey League — will have the unusual honor of a callout in the scientific journal Acta Entomologica Musei Nationalis Pragae.
“This species is named after the acrobatic goaltender for the Finnish National ice hockey team and the Boston Bruins, whose glove hand is as tenacious as the raptorial fore tarsus of this dryinid species,” the authors wrote in the paper, which has been accepted and will be published in April.
Robert S. Copeland, an entomologist at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi who grew up in Newton, said naming this particular wasp after Rask reflected his admiration for a player who has “had an outstanding career in one of the most difficult positions in sports.”
The name also fit for other reasons. The project that led to the discovery of the species was underwritten by the government of Finland, Rask’s home country. The wasp is yellowish and black, similar to the Bruins’ colors. The grasping front legs of the female have claspers that look vaguely like goalie gloves.
How does Rask feel about the honor?
Rask said he has heard of dogs and cats being named Tuukka around New England. But nothing else that he knows of. No babies. Definitely no species.
“That’s funny. That’s pretty neat,” Rask said.
T. tuukkaraski is an “ectoparasitoid,” a type of wasp that feeds off other insects. The female lays eggs on the larvae of the host bug species. When those eggs hatch, the wasp larvae cuts into the host and feeds off of it.
There is science and art in naming new species. For many scientists, it is a way to honor friends, colleagues, or historical figures, as well as to have a little fun.
In the same paper that honors Rask, Copeland writes about how he took his children’s names, James and Anna, and combined them and reversed them to name another new wasp species Anteon semajanna. Copeland has had a dozen species named after him by friends and colleagues: a beaded lacewing, five flies, and six wasps.
“You get a little bit of immortality if someone names a species after you, because species will always have the name after you’re gone,” Copeland said.
That immortality can extend to the already famous or even the fictional. In 2005, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld entered the field guides when three species of slime-mold beetles were named after them. President Obama has an eponymous lichen, Caloplaca obamae
. The cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants has a corresponding Malaysian mushroom, Spongiforma squarepantsii
The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature has a long list of guidelines, including choosing a name with pronounceability and in good taste:
“Authors should exercise reasonable care and consideration in forming new names to ensure that they are chosen with their subsequent users in mind and that, as far as possible, they are appropriate, compact, euphonious, memorable, and do not cause offence.”
In the case of Rask, no offense taken. Rask isn’t afraid to be a wasp, as well as a Bruin.
“We’re the B’s,” Rask said. “It’s flattering, I guess.”