When a fish is named after you, your name is immortalized in the taxonomic record of vertebrates, which represents just 3 percent of all animal species.
That's the honor that has been bestowed upon Susan Suarez, Cornell professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine. She says she was completely flabbergasted by the tribute. "It's the most exciting event of my entire career."
She was especially surprised since her career for the past 25 years has been founded on an entirely different swimming life-form: sperm. In graduate school at the University of Miami, Suarez switched her focus from studying a fish species in the Florida Keys to mammalian reproductive biology.
The new species of fish, Ogilbia suarezae, is a small, yellow, live-bearing fish that resembles a willow leaf and lives in shallow waters near the Caribbean islands. The topic of Suarez's master's thesis, published in the Bulletin of Marine Science in 1975, was O. suarezae's close relative, O. cayorum. The paper described the unusual reproductive biology of the fish, whose eggs hatch inside the female. The embryos then suckle on the female's ovary, drawing in ovarian tissue to sustain themselves until birth.
Thirty years later, when Danish researcher Jorgen Nielsen and his team identified a new species of fish in the Caribbean that was a close relative to Suarez's object of study, they named it after the Cornell researcher in a paper published in the November 2005 issue of the journal Aqua.
"They saw my publication, and I guess they must have liked it because I haven't been in the field for a quarter century," says Suarez.
She has never met Nielsen or any of his co-researchers. "I was completely surprised."