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Scientists create poll to name real-life ants after Pokémon

  • April 1, 2019
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Have you ever wished Pokémon were real? Of course you have – it’s practically everyone’s fantasy. I’m afraid Pokémon haven’t literally been brought to life, but thanks to the work of scientists at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, some real-world creatures are about to be named after them.

In a highly unusual move, an international team of mymecologists (ant scientists) have decided to let the public decide the names of five new species of ant. They’ve set up a website specifically for this purpose, which lists a wide selection of Pokémon for voters to choose from including Charizard, Ariados and Pikachu. I’m a little confused by some of these, as Pikachu looks nothing like an ant, but there we go.

The scientists seem particularly keen for voters to choose from the “Tapus”, as these Alolan Pokémon were likely inspired by Polynesian culture. I guess these names would certainly suit Fijian insects.

The ants in question were recently discovered in Fiji and are endemic to the island. Some are incredibly rare, and even in Fiji only appear in “single localities”. They belong to the genus Strumigenys, and are sometimes called “trapjaw ants” due to the “spring-loading mechanism of the jaws which is triggered to snap shut by the touch of suitable prey”. To be fair, I do the same thing as soon as I spot food.

According to the website, there are over 800 species of Strumigenys, which perhaps explains why a few are being given Pokémon namesakes. But the scientists have given a number of reasons for the Pokémon naming poll. As the project is the first to use augmented reality in the scientific documentation of new insect species, the team immediately thought of Pokémon Go, as this is one of “the best-known examples of AR”. The public vote, meanwhile, is an attempt to “bring greater awareness” to “all of the incredible insects out there in the world that haven’t even been discovered yet,” in addition to introducing people to “the scientific process of naming new species”.

If you want to find out a little more about the ants (which may help with the naming), check out the information pages provided by the scientists. Consider yourselves educated.

Another of the newly-discovered ants in this genus, however, has already been assigned a Pokémon-related name. The sixth new ant’s name will be based on Satoshi Tajiri, the man who invented Pokémon. Fans who know their stuff may recall Tajiri was himself a prolific bug collector as a child, and this hobby inspired the idea of a game where players could collect and battle their creatures. I guess the insect-naming poll brings the Pokémon origins story full circle: or, as one could say, back to the buginning.

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