January 27, 2016

Newly discovered leech named for Amy Tan



Amy Tan. Image via Wiki Commons.

It’s rare that a person—let alone a writer of novels—has the honor of having her name bestowed upon a newly discovered species.

Now, Jennifer Schuessler reports for the New York Times, the bestselling author Amy Tan will share her name with a tiny variety of Australian leech recently identified by researchers at the American Museum of Natural History.

Called Chtonobdella tanae in scientific parlance, the two-millimeter-long, one-millimeter-wide leech is notable for being the “first invertebrate species without chitinous or calcified tissues, like a shell or exoskeleton, to be described using computed tomography (CT) scanning.”

According to press release posted by the museum, the honor was given to Tan because she had accompanied members of the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology lab into the field, ostensibly as part of the research for her 2005 novel Saving Fish From Drowning. The book, which tells the story of twelve American tourists traveling in China and Burma, makes several references to a particular kind of jungle leech.

“Amy, long a supporter of the work we do here, is someone we know would consider it an honor, not an insult, to have a leech named after her,” said Mark Siddal, a curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology, in the Museum’s release.

The decision turns out to have been brilliant publicity, too, with the news of the little leech with an (ahem) big name buzzing far outside of the usual zoologically-inclined forums.

Tan was “thrilled”—if also amused—to learn of her new namesake. As she said in a statement quoted by Schuessler: “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”


Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.