Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014

UNO Fossil Hunter Achieves Immortality ... Through Ancient Starfish Named in His Honor

Kraig Derstler, an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences and an undergraduate adviser at the University of New Orleans, will live on forever, thanks to an ancient starfish he discovered that has been named in his honor.Kraig Derstler, an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences and an undergraduate adviser at the University of New Orleans, will live on forever, thanks to an ancient starfish he discovered that has been named in his honor.

An ancient species of starfish has been named after University of New Orleans paleontologist Kraig Derstler. Derstler, an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences and an expert in invertebrate fossils, has spent decades digging up the past. Now his name will live long into the future through Swataria derstleri, an early starfish that is approximately 450 million years old—older than dinosaurs, the Gulf of Mexico or even the Atlantic Ocean.

The species will be named in honor of Derstler, who collected the specimens in Swatara Gap, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Pennsylvania. According to Derstler, he spent thousands of hours during his youth collecting fossils, including significant time in Swatara Gap. In the 1970s, he published several papers on the fossils from this location and he noted that a new starfish resembled a Scottish fossil starfish. Four decades later, an expert on primitive starfish determined that Derstler's starfish was distinct and new, leading to the naming of the species.

"I am flattered to have a species bearing my name," Derstler said. "I've described new species myself, but never had one named after me. Scientific names are theoretically permanent; they are intended to last as long as we have scientific research. I doubt that Western science is exactly eternal, but it's a pretty good bet that the name will outlast me by at least a couple of centuries. It is pleasing to imagine that people will still be wondering how to pronounce my name in the year 2200."

 

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Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
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