Climate Change Advocates Honored With New Smiley-Faced Spider Species Namesakes

Meet Spintharus berniesandersi. (c) Agnarrson Lab/University of Vermont

David Attenborough and Barack Obama already hold records for most species named after them, 18 and 11 respectively, and now researchers have added another one each, after discovering multiple new species of smiley-faced spiders.

It’s not just Attenborough and Obama that get the honor though. Fifteen species were discovered across the Caribbean and have been named after well-known climate change and human rights advocates 

The outspoken heroes who also received the honor of having a Spintharus species named after them include Michelle Obama (S. michelleobamaae), Leonardo Dicaprio (S. leonardodicaprioi), Bernie Sanders (S. berniesandersi), and David Bowie (S. davidbowiei). They are officially described in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

Perhaps the chance to have a species named after Trump is the way to appeal to him regarding both his climate change stance and humanitarian attitude? Currently, the only known species named after him is Neopalpa donaldtrumpi, a blonde-coiffed moth with small genitals.

It was previously thought that the smiley-faced spider – named for the pattern on its abdomen rather than its cheerful demeanor – found across much of the Caribbean, Mexico, and southern states of America was just one species. But researchers from the Caribbean Biogeography Project studied the spiders from Jamaica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Antilles, Florida, South Carolina, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Colombia and discovered that most of them were actually endemic to where they were found.

Each student involved in the project got to name a species. Some chose family members, but others chose to honor their heroes. However, S. berniesandersi was named unanimously by the group.

"[W]e all named the Bernie Sanders spider," explained Lily Sargeant, one of the students who worked on the project. "We all have tremendous respect for Bernie. He presents a feeling of hope."

After naming S. leonardodicaprioi, Chloe Van Patten explained: "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," she cheekily added.

As fun as this research and naming sounds, discovering endemic species has far-reaching repercussions for conservation.

"Thoughts about conservation change dramatically when you go from having a common, widespread species to an endemic on, say, Jamaica that has very specific conservation needs," Ingi Agnarsson, the project leader, said.

Protecting one species is very different from protecting 15 different ones that are genetically isolated and have very precise local habitats.

Who knows, perhaps one of the honorees will hear about their namesake and take them under their wing, guaranteeing the smiley critters' future.

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