Besides serving as President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt may be best remembered for his success as a pioneering conservationist. It only makes sense that a published ornithologist, founder of the Boone and Crockett Club, signer of the Antiquities Act, enthusiastic hunter, and South American explorer would be immortalized in the popular and scientific names of the world’s fauna.
The best known Roosevelt namesake is probably the Roosevelt elk, Cervus canadensis roosevelti, the largest and westernmost subspecies of the North American elk. Several other species received their roosevelti after being killed during Roosevelt’s 1909 African safari, which collected specimens for the Smithsonian Institution and the American Museum of Natural History. After the safari, Edmund Heller, the Smithsonian’s naturalist on the safari, provided the taxonomical descriptions for four new species named in honor of Roosevelt. These species were Roosevelt’s Shrew (Crocidura roosevelti), Roosevelt’s Sable Antelope (Hippotragus niger roosevelti), Roosevelt’s Gazelle (Gazella granti roosevelti), and Roosevelt’s Lion (Panthera leo roosevelti).
Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, January 21, 1910. MS Am 1540 (165). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Although three of these species are large African mammals, you are likely unfamiliar with any of them. There is nothing questionable about Roosevelt’s Shrew, but shrews, especially shrews with an abundant and widespread population, rarely capture the public’s imagination. The other three animals are all subspecies and questionable subspecies at that. Subspecies are noted by the use of a trinomial name with the third word representing the subspecies name. Roosevelt’s Sable Antelope is composed of an isolated population in Kenya’s Shimba Hills, but DNA analysis has raised doubts that this group is a distinct population. Roosevelt’s Gazelle has been generally discredited as distinct from the wider Grant’s Gazelle population. Roosevelt’s Lion is one of numerous suggested subspecies of the African lion but current taxonomies may only retain two subspecies of Panthera leo, the African and Asiatic.
Theodore Roosevelt posing with a dead lion. 1909-1910. From the Dickinson State University collection.
Theodore Roosevelt continues to be honored today. In 2011, a newly discovered darkling beetle, native to Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert, was named Stenomorpha roosevelti. The discoverers, Aaron Smith and Quentin Wheeler, wanted to recognize Roosevelt’s environmental achievements and believe that the “ruggedness” of the beetle reflects the “hardy and resilient characteristics of President Roosevelt.”
Beolens, Bo, Michael Watkins, and Michael Grayson. The Eponym Dictionary of Mammals. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.
Panthera leo. IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Version 2012.2, 2012. Web. <www.iucnredlist.org> Accessed 19 November 2012.
Beetle Named after Theodore Roosevelt. Science, Space, and Robots, 22 May 2011. Web.<http://www.sciencespacerobots.com/blog/322111> Accessed 19 November 2012.