Brown Beetles must be called Hitler: Zoological experts refuse request to change the name


Zoological experts have refused a request to change the name of a bug that was named after Adolf Hitler in 1937.

The five-millimetre long ‘Anophthalmus hitleri’ is a species of blind cave beetle that is found in around just 15 humid caves in Slovenia.

There has long been controversy over its title, with many scientists appalled that it still shares a name with Hitler – one of history’s greatest monsters.

Its name was assigned to it even after the leader’s ruthless racist actions prior to the Second World War, including the Night of the Long Knives in 1934 and the Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935 – not to mention the Holocaust that was still to come.

But after another attempt to change the name, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) has determined that it is out of the question.

Zoological experts have refused a request to change the name of 'Anophthalmus hitleri' - a bug that was named after Adolf Hitler in 1937

Zoological experts have refused a request to change the name of ‘Anophthalmus hitleri’ – a bug that was named after Adolf Hitler in 1937

The insect was first discovered in what was then Yugoslavia on June 20, 1932. 

It was found by a naturalist named Vladimir Kodric, who stumbled on the cave named Pekel (Hell in English), one of the few homes of the beetle.

Although the first specimen is currently behind glass in the Natural History Museum in Basel, Switzerland, Kodric first sent it off to an Austrian collector and railway engineer by the name of Oskar Scheibel, according to the New York Times.

Scheibel – believe to be an ardent fan of Hitler’s – was convinced the beetle was a new species but held off on publishing the new to make sure he was correct.

Meanwhile, Austrian-born Hitler had become a German citizen four months before the discovery in 1932.

He was leader of the Nazi party, and was also on the cusp of becoming the Chancellor of Germany – which he did in 1933, taking power of the country.

After his deliberations, in 1937, Scheibel went back on a promise to name the insect after Kodric and instead named it after Hitler – calling it Anophthalmus hitleri.

He then notified the Chancellery in Berlin of the insect and its new name, prompting Hitler himself to write a letter of gratitude to Scheibel in return.

Unsurprisingly, it is not the ‘Anophthalmus’ part of the name that people have an issue with. The genus name comes from Greek, literally meaning ‘eyeless’.

Some have suggested that Scheibel was actually mocking the dictator by naming a blind beetle after him. This is unlikely, however, as the accompanying description reads: ‘Given to Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler as an expression of my admiration.’

Hitler was also known to have a fondness for beetles, too. In 1933, he commissioned Ferdinand Porsche to design the ‘people’s car’ (Volkswagen in German).

This became the VW Beetle, which still exists today in a modern form.

There has long been controversy over the beetle's title, with many scientists appalled that it still shares a name with Adolf Hitler (pictured) - one of history's greatest monsters

There has long been controversy over the beetle’s title, with many scientists appalled that it still shares a name with Adolf Hitler (pictured) – one of history’s greatest monsters

Today, the Anophthalmus hitleri is threatened with extinction.

This has been blamed on its name, and put down to Hitler’s notoriety.

In 2006, German magazine Der Spiegel reported that nearly all preserved specimens in the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich had been stolen.

It appeared that the beetle had become a trophy desired by Nazi memorabilia collectors, who are also known to catch the insects in the Slovenian caves and sell them on for as much as $2,000 each.

Martin Baehr, a beetle expert at The Bavarian State Collection of Zoology, said in 2006: ‘There is a complete run on these creatures, and collectors are intruding on the beetles’ natural habitat to get hold of them.’ 

Slovenia has even been forced to introduce laws against insect collection in order to protect endangered species, such as the Anophthalmus hitleri.

Whether they are on the verge of extinction has been questioned, however, with experts asking how anyone could possibly estimate how many remain in the cave.

Nevertheless, some suggest changing the name could help its survival and to reduce its popularity with Neo Nazis and collectors of Nazi memorabilia.

The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature does discourage scientists from naming species after something that could be deemed offensive.

Pictured: A sketch seen in Scheibel's 1937 paper outlining the discovery of the beetle

Pictured: A sketch seen in Scheibel’s 1937 paper outlining the discovery of the beetle

However, it says that it does not in general allow for name changes on this grounds after they have already been given a scientific name.

On the beetle, ICZN President Thomas Pape has previously said: ‘It was not offensive when it was proposed, and it may not be offensive 100 years from now.’

One solution that has been put forward is to change the vernacular name. Last year, the new name Slovenian blind cave beetle was proposed.

However, in its most recent ruling, the ICZN said it would not be changing the scientific name, saying: ‘There have been no requests to change scientific names of animal species for ethical reasons’, according to Bild.



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