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Toothy prehistoric lizard named Obamadon after smiling president

By Jason McLure

(Reuters) - Researchers have named a newly discovered, prehistoric lizard "Obamadon gracilis" in honor of the 44th president's toothy grin.

The small, insect-eating lizard was first discovered in eastern Montana in 1974, but a recent re-examination showed the fossil had been wrongly classified as a Leptochamops denticulatus and was in fact a new species, researchers told Reuters on Tuesday.

Obamadon gracilis was one of nine newly discovered species reported on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In naming the new species, scientists from Yale and Harvard universities combined the Latin "Obamadon" for "Obama's teeth" and "gracilis," which means slender.

"The lizard has these very tall, straight teeth and Obama has these tall, straight incisors and a great smile," said Nick Longrich, a paleontologist at the school in New Haven, Connecticut.

It was believed to have lived during the Cretaceous period, which began 145.5 million years ago. Along with many dinosaurs from that era, the lizard died out about 65 million years ago when a giant asteroid struck earth, scientists say.

Longrich said he waited until after the recent U.S. election to name the lizard.

"It would look like we were kicking him when he's down if he lost and we named this extinct lizard after him," he said in an interview.

"Romneydon" was never under consideration and "Clintondon" didn't sound good, said Longrich, who supported Hillary Clinton's failed run against Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary.

Obama is not the first politician whose name has been used to help classify organisms. Megalonyxx jeffersonii, an extinct species of plant-eating ground sloth, was named in honor of President Thomas Jefferson, an amateur paleontologist who studied the mammal.

Earlier this year, researchers announced they had named five newly identified species of freshwater perch after Obama, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter and Theodore Roosevelt.

In 2005, entomologists named three species of North American slime-mold beetles agathidium bushi, agathidium cheneyi and agathidium rumsfeldi in honor of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld - the U.S. president, vice president and secretary of defense at the time.

Other celebrity names also have been used to name new species. A small Caribbean crustacean has been named after reggae icon Bob Marley, an Australian horsefly has been named in honor of hip-hop star Beyonce, and an endangered species of marsh rabbit has been named after Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner.

(Reporting by Jason McLure in Littleton, N.H.; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Eric Walsh)

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