500-million-year-old sea creature named after President Obama

500-million-year-old fossils discovered in Australia by researchers from the University of California, Riverside: Obamus coronatus (left) and Attenborites janeae.

University of California, Riverside

Over 500 million years ago, deep in the dark, vast ocean, lived a creature that would one day have a connection to a 21st century American president. Researchers at University of California, Riverside discovered two new prehistoric organisms, and named one Obamus coronatus, in honor of President Obama.

The Latin “Obamus” refers to the president’s last name, and “coronauts” means “crowned.” The creature lived on the ocean floor its entire life, and looked more like a plant. It is visible now as a fossil, having been been preserved for hundreds of millions of years.

The Obamus coronatus was small — about 1/2 inch long — and had spiral grooves on its surface. Researchers say they named the creature after Obama to honor his passion for science.

The other newly discovered creature was named Attenborites janeae after Sir David Attenborough, the English naturalist and broadcaster. Researchers honored Attenborough for his support of paleontology. This creature is “less than a centimeter across, was adorned with internal grooves and ridges giving it a raisin-like appearance,” the researchers say. 

Both specimens were found in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges region, in a well-preserved fossil bed which researchers have dubbed “Alice’s Restaurant Bed,” a tribute to the Arlo Guthrie song and its lyric, “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.”

“I’ve been working in this region for 30 years, and I’ve never seen such a beautifully preserved bed with so many high quality and rare specimens, including Obamus and Attenborites,” paleontologist Mary Droser said in a statement. Droser is the lead author of two studies about these discoveries which are being published in the Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, or AJES. 

“We have been seeing evidence for these animals for quite a long time,” Droser said, “but it took us a while to verify that they are animals within their own rights and not part of another animal.” She said South Australia is hoping to get the area where the fossils were found designated as a World Heritage Site to reflect its unique history and the importance of protecting it.

It was a long time coming, but Obamus coronatus finally got discovered and received a name — and a presidential one at that.

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