UCSB zoology professor Armand Kuris has received one of the greatest honors biologists can hope for — having a newly discovered species named after him.
Carcinonemertes kurisi, a species of ribbon worm, was first found and documented by Kuris and Patricia Sadeghian, one of his former students. Sadeghian wrote her Master’s thesis on the species in 2003 and then named the ribbon worm after Kuris in an October 2010 issue of the Journal of Natural History after producing a formal description of the worm.
“Producing a formal description is hard work — it needs to be done very carefully,” Kuris said. “You need to be absolutely sure [the species] has never been seen before.”
According to Kuris, the corkscrew-like shape of the sheath of the worm helped indicate the discovery of a new species.
“Most worms secrete a sheath, usually a straight cylinder,” Kuris said. “But in this case the worm secretes a distinct, odd corkscrew sheath … This is the first described species that exhibits [this quality].”
The kurisi live within Randallia ornata — also known as the purple globe crab — which can be found along the coast of California. The worm lives within the egg mass of the crab and eats the embryos inside. The worm is therefore considered an egg predator rather than a parasite. According to Kuris, the egg masses of the Randallia ornata had been relatively unexplored before his team’s study.
“The eggs are not easy to see, and no one had ever looked,” Kuris said in a press release. “But it is the kind of thing that I look for.”
According to Kuris, the ribbon worm infests the crab when it is in its larval state and mobile in the ocean. Kuris said many — if not most — of the Randallia ornata are infested with the worm.
“To our knowledge, most of the Randallia are infected by the kurisi,” Kuris said.
The naming convention for newly discovered animals is very strict, so it is common for species to either be named after one of their characteristics or after someone involved within the field. The main rule, Kuris said, is that no one is allowed to name something after themselves. Therefore, in order to have a species named after someone, the accolade must be bestowed to them by their colleagues in the field.
Sadeghian, who is currently an associate curator at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, said in a press release that she named the ribbon worm after Kuris to honor him for his extensive work in the field.
“The species is named in honor of Armand for his tremendous support and enthusiasm toward the study of nemertean egg predators,” Sadeghian said in a press release.
“The cool thing about having an animal named after you,” Kuris said, “is that long after Armand Kuris is dead, buried and long-forgotten, that worm will always be known as kurisi.”