David Attenborough becomes life patron of Australian Museum, has Tasmanian snail named after him
His name has been used to classify a beautiful dragonfly, an extinct marsupial lion, a ghost shrimp from Madagascar and a carnivorous pitcher plant.
Now a snail in Tasmania, Australia, has the honour of being named after the world's most famous naturalist, David Attenborough.
To mark the beginning of its 190th anniversary year, the Australian Museum has named Attenborough as a lifetime patron - and a little Tasmanian snail shall for evermore be known as Attenborougharion rubicundus.
Attenborough was at the museum on Wednesday for a lunch in his honour.
He said he was deeply honoured to be made a lifetime patron by Australia's first museum.
"The Australian Museum, when it was founded 190 years ago, had the extraordinary and unique responsibility of starting the first systematic collection of the animals and plants of an entire continent," he said.
"Today it is a scientific centre of world importance and it is a great honour to be made one of its lifetime patrons."
In presenting the award, the Australian Museum Trust president, Catherine Livingstone, said Attenborough's contribution to generating awareness of the natural world was unprecedented.
"There is no one else - you have no peer," she said.
Attenborough has had 12 species named after him, but the colourful 35 to 45 millimetre snail from Tasmania is the first genus named after the British broadcaster.
Kim McKay, director of the museum, asked Attenborough to accept the honour and lend his name to the snail. Of course, she wrote to him by snail mail.
"You only ever communicate with Sir David by snail mail," McKay said. "And there is nothing like the thrill of receiving from him a handwritten note or a letter typed on his manual typewriter."
McKay said: "Sir David's contribution is outstanding. He has inspired our scientists and visitors alike, dating back to his earliest visits hosting lectures in the 1980s to visits to the museum's collection of ancient fish fossils in Canowindra to more recent trips to the Lizard Island Research Station."
McKay told the Herald that the scientific staff were very excited to be honouring Attenborough. "A number of them delayed their departure for our Lord Howe Island expedition to attend the event."
The Attenborougharion snail is a little marvel. McKay said its usual habitat is restricted to a small area of south-east Tasmania in wet forests on the Tasman and Forestier peninsulas.
The creature is part snail, part slug, having a shell into which it can no longer retract.
The museum said that the snail covers most of its shell with folds with the same bright-green colour of its upper body. In stark contrast, its head and foot are bright red.
The species was first described in 1978 and classified in the genus Helicarion.
However, recent work by Australian Museum scientists has shown the snail is a separate genus and similarities with Helicarion are likely the result of convergent evolution, where organisms develop similar traits independently while adapting to similar environments.
- Sydney Morning Herald