Many zoologists go their entire career without discovering a new species, let alone a new genus, so Robert Beeton has a bit of a head start. He has discovered a new genus of spiders, aged just 12. Beeton has named the discovery after his father.
Beeton, from Pakana, was on a camp for Aboriginal youth in Tasmania’s central highlands. The camp participates in Bush Blitz, a program that aims to engage amateurs to discover previously unidentified native species. Bush Blitz manager Jo Harding points out that 700 new species have been discovered in Australia in the last four years. "It's quite amazing to think that a country like Australia has about 75% of its biodiversity unknown," says Harding. Bush blitz also helps farmers and land managers learn about the presence of native and introduced species on their land.
Where some participants might have been wary of creatures of the eight-legged variety, Beeton told ABC radio, “I’ve loved spiders since I was really little. Gotta do what I do best.”
Harding confirms this, “He was the one kid who was out the front, pulling up bark, looking underneath things.” It had got to the point on a day trip where everyone else, including Harding and leading Australian arachnologist Robert Raven were ready to go back to camp, when Beeton pointed out an spider he describes as “Big and ugly, kind of dark and it had tiger stripes.”
According to Harding, Raven at first was too tired to be interested, but "When he saw what it was he just said 'Oh my God!'."
Having made the discovery, Beeton was entitled to choose the name, once it was confirmed that the species was indeed one that had not been scientifically described before. The paruwi spider is still being studied prior to publication of a full description, but is believed to be from the Miturgidae family, popularly known as “racing stripe spiders” and including many of the species most likely to give arachnophobes the heeby-jeebies.
"Paruwi is the north-west Tasmanian Aboriginal name for beetle, and I named it that because it was my dad's nickname,” says Beeton.