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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 4 ― A Malaysian marine ecologist discovered a new genus of sea slugs in Melaka and named one of its species after transgender activist Nisha Ayub.
Nisha said that Leena Wong from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), who discovered a fascinating sea slug that camouflages itself as seaweed, according to National Geographic, named the species Wong discovered Sacoproteus nishae (S. nishae).
Most researchers will normally use Latin in species naming, and therefore, Nishae is the Latinised name for Nisha.
“I was actually informed by Leena (Wong) who is the researcher that found this new species.
“Honestly, I felt so overwhelmed that she had decided to named this historical (sic) discovery with my name. When she explained to me why, then I understand her reason,” Nisha told Malay Mail.
The high-profile activist, who already has a day named after her in United States city San Diego, shared on Facebook a letter from Wong who said that the Sacoproteus nishae belonged to a group of sea slugs called sacoglossan that feeds on the seaweed Caulerpa lentilifera (sea grapes) and stores the algae’s green pigments in their body.
This will ensure that S. nishae has the same colour as their host plant and they can blend in their environment, becoming almost invisible without careful observation. S. nishae even have bulbous body structures that mimic their food host.
“The first thing that popped in my mind is how we transgender community tried our best to become part of the society,” Nisha told Malay Mail.
Most marine sea slugs are hermaphrodite, including S. nishae.
Hermaphrodite is an organism that has complete or partial reproductive organs and produces gametes normally associated with both male and female sexes. Many taxonomic groups of animals (mostly invertebrates) do not have separate sexes.
Nisha told Malay Mail that it was an honour to be named in such findings where scientists spend years researching.
“At the same time, this nomination gives a sense of recognition towards my work and existence as a transgender woman from a local perspective that is also acknowledged internationally in the marine world,” she added.
National Geographic reported that Wong was initially told the sea slugs she found were Stiliger smaragdinus, a decades-old name for the seaweed mimics, but she persisted in proving her belief that the creatures were of two different species.
None of the slugs she and lead study author Patrick Krug from California State University, Los Angeles, collected actually belonged to the genus Stiliger, including Stiliger smaragdinus.
S. smaragdinus was, in fact, five different species. Krug and Wong’s team named the new genus Sacoproteus after the shape-shifting Greek sea god Proteus, National Geographic reported.
Wong is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Agriculture in UPM.
Malay Mail was unable to get Wong for comment after office hours.