Light & Verity

A six-legged tribute

A Yale taxonomist names a spider for a friend.

Phil Hoenle

Phil Hoenle

View full image

One of the perks of being a scientist—if you’re lucky—is naming a new species. When taxonomist Douglas Booher, a postdoc at the Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change, got his chance recently, he reached back into his past to honor a departed friend. Booher chose the name Strumigenys ayersthey for a new ant species from Ecuador that he’d helped to identify.

As a DJ in Athens, Georgia, Booher had befriended local arts figures such as REM’s Michael Stipe and artist Jeremy Ayers. Ayers, a gender-bender who had been part of Andy Warhol’s circle, had returned to his native Georgia in the 1970s and helped build the city’s famous art and music scene.

Strumigenys was already established as the genus name; Booher settled on the species name ayersthey as a nonbinary solution to the usual masculine or feminine Latin endings. “I knew Jeremy, and knew of no other human that better represented the pan[sexual] and inclusive world of humans,” says Booher. “He was also a lover of biodiversity, so it just seemed to fit.”

The comment period has expired.