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New-To-Science Spider Named After Leonard Cohen

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Rachael Funnell

author

Rachael Funnell

Writer & Senior Digital Producer

Rachael is a writer and digital content producer at IFLScience with a Zoology degree from the University of Southampton, UK, and a nose for novelty animal stories.

Writer & Senior Digital Producer

The name's violin. Burning violin. Pictures provided by Alireza Zamani

The name's violin. Burning violin. Pictures provided by Alireza Zamani

It’s one of the natural sciences’ greatest honors to have a new species named after you, and the events that led to the discovery of an eight-legged beauty have inspired its captors to name this deadly creature after the world-famous musician Leonard Cohen. The burning violin (Loxosceles coheni) is described in a new study published in the journal of Medical Entomology as a species of medical importance, owing to its nasty bite which can wreak havoc on the body and leave a lifelong scar.

The new spider is part of the arachnid genus Loxosceles which at the time of writing is home to 140 species worldwide, some of which are more commonly known as the brown recluse or violin spiders. The genus joins a small party (with whom you don’t want to party) of medically important spiders, as they pack an extremely nasty bite which can sometimes be fatal.

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The devastating compound behind recluse spiders’ infamous venom is phospholipase D, which destroys endothelial cells that line blood vessels by hydrolyzing sphingomyelin and glycerophospholipids on the cell surface membrane. The symptoms which follow a Loxosceles bite – known as loxoscelism – include necrotic skin lesions.

The venom of Loxosceles spiders can be life-threatening and leaves lifelong scars. Pictures provided by Alireza Zamani

For a long time, the Middle East and Central Asia were largely free of these boisterous biters, with only Loxosceles rufescens found in these regions. That was until 2017, when Loxosceles persica was found and described in caves in Iran’s Zagros Mountains, and became the first recluse species known to be endemic to the Middle East. With so little known of these medically significant spiders, researchers decided to carry out investigations into the species richness and distribution of the Loxosceles genus in the Middle East and Central Asia. It was this taxonomic study that led to the discovery of two species new to science, including Loxosceles coheni.

“We named a new species of Loxosceles spiders after Leonard Cohen, as I used to listen to his music while working in the lab often late at night which happened a lot while working on this particular project,” wrote researcher on the study Alireza Zamani (who also discovered the Joker spider) in an email to IFLScience. “In the title of the article we used "Burning Violin" as a pun: firstly, it is a reference to Leonard Cohen's song "Dance Me To The End of Love", and secondly, these spiders are commonly known as recluse or violin spiders as they have a violin-shaped marking on their cephalothorax.

Loxosceles belong to a group of medically important spiders you don't wanna' mess with. Pictures provided by Alireza Zamani

“I find it an interesting connection between these spiders and a recluse, musician poet. The "burning" part is also a reference to their venom, which can cause severe systemic effect leaving a permanent scar behind. I liken Cohen's music to the venom of these spiders: it doesn't affect everyone, but those who are affected by it carry a scar for the rest of their lives.”

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You’ve got to admit, it makes for one hell of an album endorsement.


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