March 1, 2013 at 1:59 PM ET
In early February, scientists announced that they'd found our long-lost common ancestor: a tiny, furry creature with a tail that emerged after the dinosaurs disappeared. This ancient animal, about the size of a shrew or a rat, was the grand-mammal of all placentals that came after it. But because the scientists pieced together their knowledge of the animal from a deep stash of data rather than bones or fossils, they didn't get to give it a neat Latin name.
"The reconstruction in the paper is very scientific, but it's an ancestor that we don't have a fossil of," Stony Brook University's Maureen O'Leary, one of the scientists who put its parts together, told NBC News. "We can tell what its anatomy looked like... [but] it's not something you can open a drawer and see." So scientists couldn't put a name on it. And what stuck was: "hypothetical common ancestor."
If you think that's a mouthful, you're not alone. When the science-loving soundmasters at RadioLab first heard about the furry critter and its odd name, it struck them as distinctly ... unfuzzy. And O'Leary seemed to agree, RadioLab's Molly Webster writes. In fact, she joked, they may be able to do better.
RadioLab jumped on it. They're teaming up with New York's American Museum of Natural History to let anyone help pick a name. You're invited to contribute to the naming contest by tweeting using the hashtag #nameyourancestor all the way until March 5. RadioLab and AMNH and a team of scientists will pick their favorites. Then, everyone gets to vote on their top choice from the final list. While "hypothetical common ancestor" won't be scrubbed from the scientific record, our ancient furry friend might wind up with a more endearing nickname.