German researcher Christian Lukhaup is a pretty big Edward Snowden fan. So he decided to name a new species of crayfish after the former National Security Agency contractor.
The Cherax snowden, which doesn't bear any particular resemblance to Snowden, lives in freshwater tributary creeks in West Papau, Indonesia. Lukhaup and two other researchers described the crayfish in an article published Monday by the journal ZooKeys.
Lukhaup has named other species before, including earlier this year when he described the brightly colored Cherax pulcher in ZooKeys. In his latest paper, Lukhaup explained the new crayfish name, writing that Snowden is an "American freedom fighter" and "the name is used as a noun in apposition."
The typical naming convention follows a genus-species construction, per International Code of Zoological Nomenclature guidelines, and researchers who describe species to science for the first time have free rein on naming rights.
"After describing a couple new species, I thought about naming one after Edward Snowden because he really impressed me," Lukhaup, an independent researcher, told The Post. "We have so many species named after other famous people who probably don't do so much for humanity. I wanted to show support for Edward Snowden. I think what he did is something very special."
In 2013, Snowden leaked top-secret document caches to three journalists (including a Washington Post reporter), which led to a series of articles revealing the scope of the NSA's surveillance program. Snowden is a controversial figure in the United States, where some have called for leniency and lauded him as a hero, while others have cast him as a criminal who put American security at risk.
But he enjoys wide support in Germany, where a Dresden square was named after the former contractor in June. Now, he gets his own crayfish.
"A crayfish is a powerful species; it's protected by a very hard shell, plus it has two very effective chelae, the pincers, and even if they are tiny, [they] can hurt a lot," Lukhaup said. "A crayfish lives under a rock. It has to hide from his enemies and he comes out in the night and he hunts, and he is protected by a shell."
Lukhaup first got his hands on one of the Cherax snowdens back in 2006, thanks to a collector from Kepala Burung who had some for "ornamental purposes." But it wasn't until this year when researchers acquired more specimens from an online German store selling freshwater invertebrates and a wholesale distributor in Indonesia. The researchers extracted DNA from muscle tissue as part of the process to learn more about the species.
Male specimens of snowden-the-crayfish examined by Lukhaup measure nearly three to four inches in total length, while a female specimen measures about three inches in total length. Their pincers are various shades of green with orange tips.
Researchers write that large numbers of the snowden crayfish are collected for the global aquarium trade and to feed local populations.
"According to local collectors, the populations of the species have been decreasing in the last few years," the study authors write. "Clearly, the continued collecting of these crayfish for the trade is not a sustainable practice, and if the popularity of the species continues, a conservation management plan will have to be developed, potentially including a captive breeding program."
Lukhaup said that pollution also puts the animals at risk, and that responsible exporting for the aquarium trade could actually be good for the species as "people will get interested and then hopefully protect them."