Gotta name them all: how Pokémon can transform taxonomy

Editorial in Nature:

WEB_Pokemon--Niantic-IncMillions of people have spent the past week walking around. Ostensibly, they are playing the online game Pokémon Go and hunting for critters in an ‘augmented reality’ world. But as gamers wander with their smartphones — through parks and neighbourhoods, and onto the occasional high-speed railway line — they are spotting other wildlife, too. Scientists and conservationists have been quick to capitalize on the rare potential to reach a portion of the public usually hunched over consoles in darkened rooms, and have been encouraging Pokémon hunters to snap and share online images of the real-life creatures they find. The question has even been asked: how long before the game prompts the discovery of a new species? It’s not out of the question: success is 90% perspiration after all, and millions of gamers peering around corners and under bushes across the world can create a very sweaty exercise indeed. By definition, each Pokémon hunter almost certainly holds a high-definition camera in their hands. And there is a precedent: earlier this year, scientists reported Arulenus miae, a new species of pygmy devil grasshopper, identified in the Philippines after a researcher saw an unfamiliar insect in a photo on Facebook (J. Skejo and J. H. S. Caballero Zootaxa 4067, 383–393; 2016).

But Pokémon Go players beware. It is one thing to conquer a world of imaginary magical creatures with names like Eevee and Pidgey, and quite another to tangle with the historical complexity of the Inter­national Code of Zoological Nomenclature. So, say you do manage to snap a picture of something previously unknown to science — what then? Let Nature be your guide. First, the good news — the Code (we’ll call it that from now on to save on Twitter characters) is now officially with the times, and no longer reliant on the dead trees that were so popular before you were born. Despite grumbles from traditionalists, in 2012 the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, which hosts the Code, agreed to embrace online-only media. In doing so, it relaxed its rule that species could be officially named only in printed academic journals. Now, the bad news — if your picture of an unusual butterfly or bird or hippopotamus does look to a friendly online biologist like a new species, then you’ll probably have to go back and catch the beast. (Whisper it, but you might even have to kill it.)

More here.