While former gifted kids have been trying to spend the better part of the COVID-19 pandemic writing the next King Lear, some scientists used the time to discover new species of worms, one of which they named after COVID herself.
The two new kinds of hammerhead flatworms — identified by a team of researchers led by Jean-Lou Justine, a professor at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris — are officially called Humbertium covidum and Diversibipalium mayottensis, according to the official worm launch announcement published in the scientific journal PeerJ. A news release describes the former, which is the one we care about, as 30 millimeters in length and “uniformly metallic black” in color; to the untrained eye, these worms look a bit like fat, slick, inky, alien tendrils that could easily wriggle up a nose and launch a hostile takeover of one’s brain and body.
The Humbertium covidum was so named in recognition of the pandemic that enabled this discovery. “Due to the pandemic, during the lockdowns most of us were home, with our laboratory closed. No field expeditions were possible,” said Justine. “I convinced my colleagues to gather all the information we had about these flatworms, do the computer analyses, and finally write this very long paper.”
The name was also intended “as homage to the victims of COVID-19,” which is a touching if somewhat baffling honor, considering that flatworms are considered a potential threat to soil biodiversity and ecology because they are easily globally distributed and devour local earthworms and snails. The Humbertium covidum is said to be a potentially invasive species that probably originated in Asia — although the team’s specimens were found in France and Italy — which is like, hmm, kind of interesting considering all the hubbub over COVID’s origins. Perhaps there is some dark humor at play here — everyone’s a comedian these days.