A strikingly patterned new species of velvet spider has been discovered in Iran, which marks the first time a variety of velvet spider has been found outside the Mediterranean. Its given name, Loureedia phoenixi, was inspired by Joaquin Phoenix following his award-winning performance in the movie Joker, particularly the Joker's characteristic smile, which the researchers saw in the spider’s unusual markings.
Alireza Zamani, an arachnologist and taxonomist from the University of Turku, said he first became aware of the spider's existence after a photo was posted of it on social media. The spider unfortunately wasn't collected so Zamani went out in search of his own specimen.
"In 2016, I did manage to collect one specimen, but unfortunately it got lost during the transportation, and we were not able to describe the species," Zamani told IFLScience in an interview. "Then, I decided to start some public awareness and "citizen science" projects about this species... to encourage local naturalists to collect specimens for scientific studies. This resulted in the collection of the new material that we used in our paper (and several other new species of velvet spiders), and gathering of many photographic records, which enabled us to have a more clear understanding of the distribution, phenology, and ecology of this beautiful spider."
The life of velvet spiders, named Loureedia after the guitarist and singer of the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, is quite a grisly one. Before her spiderlings hatch, a female velvet spider begins to biologically prepare her body so that it can be easily digested by her offspring. Once the babies have hatched, they first feed their young by regurgitating food, but all the while their abdominal tissues are continuing to break down. Once complete, the timely degradation gives her young the best chances of survival, as they will feed on their mother's body before heading out into the world, a behavior known as matriphagy.
It’s perhaps fitting then that a character steeped in malevolence and violence should serve as the namesake for a spider born from such sinister beginnings. Of course, the main inspiration linking this velvet spider, officially described in the journal Anthropda Selecta, to the fictional character is the unique markings on its back, which the researchers felt mirrored the famous smile of the Joker, surrounded by the eerie white face paint reminiscent of the clowns of nightmares.
"For me, choosing the 'right' name for my new species is usually a time consuming but rather fun activity," Zamani said. "If you can add your own personal touch to it, it would be the crème de la crème!
"When I saw the movie Joker last year, I realized the close similarities between my spider and the character, which was later confirmed by some of my friends and colleagues. Considering all of this, it seemed like a nice homage to name this beautiful species after Mr Phoenix, in recognition of his fantastic portrayal of the character. I hope that this species will be as memorable as his performance."
While a fear of spiders is a common phobia, this brightly colored fuzz ball is really quite adorable. Unless you’re not a fan of mother spiders melting their insides so that their babies can pierce their abdomens and suck out the nutritious goo, in which case...