Update, June 3, 2016: Ginsburg commented on Ilomantis ginsburgae to the Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin. “Gregor Samsa woke up one morning to find himself changed into a big black bug,” she said, referencing Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. “Praying mantis, female too, is ever so much more attractive.”
When scientists at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History discovered a new species of praying mantis while studying the insects’ genitalia, they knew exactly what to do: name it after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Ilomantis ginsburgae, as the species is now known, was identified through a somewhat unusual scientific process. Typically, researchers study mantis specimens’ male genitalia to delineate their species. But Sydney Brannoch, the Ph.D. candidate at Case Western Reserve University who led the ginsburgae study, decided to study female mantis’ genitalia instead—and, thanks to her innovation, was able to distinguish Ilomantis ginsburgae as a new species. (The specimen she studied had actually been sitting around since 1967; you can learn more about Brannoch’s methodology here.)
“This research establishes the validity of using female specimens in the classification of praying mantises,” Brannoch concluded. “It is my hope that our work not only sets a precedent in taxonomy but also underscores the need for scientists to investigate and equally consider both sexes in other scientific investigations.”
Brannoch named the mantis after Ginsburg on account of the justice’s “relentless fight for gender equality”—an apt tribute, given the feminist-tinged method by which ginsburgae was discovered. The researcher also chose Ginsburg because of her love of jabots, the frilly lace collar the justice often wears on her robes. Brannoch sees a jabot-type quality in the mantis’ neck plate.
“A prime part of the history of our Constitution,” Ginsburg once wrote, “is the story of the extension of constitutional rights and protections to people once ignored or excluded.” It is wonderfully fitting that this long-ignored species—identified through female specimens, discovered by a female scientist—now boasts the name of the female justice who helped extend rights to so many.