The curator has a new exhibit for his collection: Gravicalymene bakeri. The newly discovered trilobite was found by Australian scientists, Dr. Patrick M. Smith of the Australian Museum and Dr. Malte C. Ebach of University of New South Wales, and named after the legendary Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker.
Trilobites are extinct fossil marine arthropods (meaning jointed legs), which can be recognized by their distinctive three-lobed, three-segmented form. They first appeared at the beginning of the Cambrian Period, about 542 million years ago, and survived into the Permian period, about 251 million years ago. Though most were small, some grew to be as much as 45cm long and were active predators. For a time, they dominated the seas.
Gravicalymene bakeri was actually discovered in 1997 in the Gunns Plains under what one might call curious circumstances. While driving in the valley on the north-west coast of Tasmania, Ebach found a collection of trilobites in shale while stopping to relieve himself. The fossil dates from the Late Ordovician period, part of the Palaeozoic era, approximately 450 million years ago. During this time, Australia was part of the great landmass Gondwana and Earth’s complex (and now terribly stressed) marine ecosystems were just beginning to develop.
It wasn’t until recently that the trilobite was discovered to be of a separate species, and it was Smith who named it in honour of Tom Baker’s portrayal:
I’m not old enough to remember Tom Baker’s episodes which were originally aired in 1974-81. However, growing up as a teenager when the series re-aired in the early 2000s, I followed the show religiously and became convinced that a career in science was guaranteed to improve the world.
Ebach is also a fan, having started watching Doctor Who in the 1970s and the repeats throughout the 1980s:
It was the character of Doctor Who, and especially the actor Tom Baker, that inspired me to explore the natural world. So, it is a joy to name a trilobite in his honour. My sister-in-law has even knitted a replica Doctor Who scarf for the occasion…
Now, both scientists have had the good fortune to receive a letter from Tom Baker himself, thanking them for the honour:
I am delighted to be entitled at last. I hope the Who world will share my joy. Will I be allowed to tack “Fossil” on official correspondence? I hope the Who world will celebrate this fresh honour and will spread the news to those who live in remote places. Happy days to all the Who fans everywhere.