Spiders Galore

Currently, there are approximately 35,000 named species of spiders worldwide, but many scientists believe that this number makes up only about half of the total Earthly spider population. To those of you less than fond of our eight-legged neighbors, a recent discovery of 15 new spider species might either reinforce your fears or sway you to the side of the arthropods.

Ingi Agnarsson, an arachnid expert and professor of biology at the University of Vermont (UVM), led a team of four undergraduate students in the discovery of these 15 species, which are found in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and the southern United States. What makes this discovery doubly remarkable is the creativity that went into naming these creatures.

Just a few of the scientific names of the spiders are as follows: Spintharus davidattenboroughi, S. barackobamai, S. michelleobamaae, and S. berniesandersi as well as S. davidbowiei and S. leonardodicaprioi. As you might have guessed, these spiders were named after David Attenborough, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, David Bowie, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

A female Bernie Sanders spider, Spintharus berniesandersi, in a lateral view. (Image Credit: Agnarsson Lab)

Celebrity Arachnids

The big question here may be: why? Why choose celebrity names?

Agnarsson explained, "In naming these spiders, the students and I wanted to honor people who stood up for both human rights and warned about climate change—leaders and artists who promoted sensible approaches for a better world." In other worlds, the team highlighted those who have stood up for the planet and its residents by making them an everlasting part of nature itself.

The Spinarthus genus was previously thought to be a single species, one that had already been identified. But the team used a combination of photography, lab work, and painstaking analysis to set the new variations apart, dividing it into fifteen species endemic to each region studied.

Being a Vermont-based team, the love for Bernie may have gone without saying. Lily Sargeant, a researcher on the team stated that "Our time on this earth is limited...But I think that ideas are not that way. It is my hope that through naming that spider after Bernie we can remember the ideas that he has at this pivotal point in the life of our nation."

Others, namely recent UVM graduate Chloe Van Patten, were motivated by a love for Leonardo DiCaprio: "I'm over my crush, but now that he's involved in environmental issues, I love him even more. So I named a spider after him hoping that if he read our study...he might go out to dinner with me and talk about climate change."

The creativity involved in this naming could inspire more students and researchers to make research relateable. Not to mention, with so many more species to discover, the rise of celebrity arachnids could continue on. As Agnarsson remarked, "if we keep looking, we're sure there are more."

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