The flatworm, coined Baracktrema obamai, is so unusual that it merits not only a new species designation, but its own genus, too.
“This is the first time such an action has been taken for this group of turtle parasites in 21 years,” said the report in the Journal of Parasitology on September 8.
The new species was discovered by Thomas Platt, an expert on turtle parasites who recently retired from Saint Mary’s College in the state of Indiana.
He said he was inspired to name the creature after Obama, in part because the worms “face incredible obstacles to complete their journey and must contend with the immune system of the host in order to mature and reproduce.”
He was also influenced by doing genealogy research that traced his family and the US president’s family back to a common ancestor.
“I have named a number of species after people I admire, from my father-in-law, my Ph.D. adviser, and good friends who are academics and/or amateur naturalists,” Platt said in a statement.
“Baracktrema obamai will endure as long as there are systematists studying these remarkable organisms.”
Scientists hope the discovery will improve public health by adding to research on a related flatworm that causes schistosomiasis, a disease that infects tens of millions of people per year around the world and can be deadly.
The National Science Foundation-funded research may also bring attention to the plight of freshwater turtles, which are increasingly vulnerable to poaching and habitat loss around the world.