Considering the year we’ve had, learning that Bob Marley’s back in the news is a welcome, short-term relief. Hearing him sing his repeated and famous refrain “everything’s gonna be alright” is decidedly soothing right now.
So why is this remarkable Jamaican singer-songwriter making headlines now? Has a previously undiscovered album been unearthed, or are some hidden song lyrics only just coming to light? No – he’s been honored in the naming of a new species of spider.
As reported in a recent Evolutionary Systematics study, a newly analyzed, water-adapted, coral reef-residing, eight-legged beastie in the genus Desis has been given the species name bobmarleyi.
These spiders are known to inhabit intertidal zones, the part of the shore that is varyingly above and below water at low and high tides, respectively. They tend to spend their time hunting down various forms of marine-based prey using their considerable speed and slightly scary jaws; otherwise, they hang out in a protective air chamber comprised of silk.
So why was the latest discovery named after the greatest reggae musician in history? The authors give the game away right at the start of their study.
“Here, we describe a new intertidal species from tropical Queensland and name it after Bob Marley, whose song “High Tide or Low Tide” inspired us as it lives in a “high tide low tide” habitat”, they explain.
D. bobmarleyi was first identified back in 2009 from a male holotype, the original specimen on which a species is identified, along with a female counterpart found at roughly the same time. Only now has it been officially categorized as a brand new species.
According to the Queensland Museum and the University of Hamburg researchers, they have also re-described another species first discovered a century-and-a-half ago, while casting some shade at the existing description of another Desis species.
The paper also mentions the late-Amalie Dietrich, a pioneering (and, according to some, controversial) German collector and expert in natural history renowned for her work in Australia, including on spiders.
“Reggae legend Bob Marley certainly had a different background but shared with Dietrich and other explorers some character traits: adventurous and resilient at heart, he liberated himself and his peers from poverty and hopelessness,” the researchers note.
They also explain that the aforementioned Marley song accompanied them on the all-important field trip that led to the confirmation of the new species of spider. All in all, then, this study is a letter of appreciation to those that research spiders and to Bob Marley – not a combination you’d expect to see every day.
Incidentally, this isn’t the first time that Marley has been immortalized in this way. A few years back, a vampiric, parasitical crustacean, Gnathia marleyi, was adorned with his legendary name too.
As reported by Scientific American, this controversial decision was made because parasites are important organisms too – and in the end, this was just one professional, a scientist, unconventionally honoring another, a musician.
Honestly, you shouldn’t give much thought to why certain species are named after seemingly unrelated popular figures. Remember, there’s a carnivorous pitcher plant out there named Nepenthes attenboroughii, and we sincerely doubt that that’s what the renowned wildlife documentary presenter is like when the cameras aren’t rolling.
Scientists and researchers like naming things after famous people – both benevolent and malevolent – so add this curious new species to a list that also includes a horse fly named after Beyoncé and a beetle named after Hitler.