Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama are among a select few political and environmental figures to have the unusual distinction of getting a newly discovered spider species named after them.
Researchers from the University of Vermont (UVM) identified 15 new species of “smiley-faced” spiders in the genus ‘Spintharus’ – and even issued them with names after well-known social justice advocates.
“We need to understand and protect biodiversity in its many forms, and we felt compelled to recognize leaders that understand this,” said Ingi Agnarsson, the UVM biology professor who led the project.
Michelle Obama, David Bowie, Leonardo diCaprio and David Attenborough are also among the recipients of an honorary spider species moniker.
Previously it was believed that these spiders, which have a pattern on their abdomens reminiscent of a smiling face, were a single widespread species. However, after examining them across a range of countries, the team determined that they are many endemic species.
Spiders from Jamaica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the Lesser Antilles, Florida, South Carolina, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Colombia were analysed by the team with the assistance of the Caribbean Biogeography Project and biologist Greta Binford from Lewis & Clark College.
Agnarsson explained that each UVM student involved in the research was tasked with naming a spider species.
Unsurprisingly, it was a group decision to designate one spider species ‘S. berniesandersi’ after US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).
“That spider species will be named after Bernie forever,” student researcher Ben Chomitz said.
Agnarsson said the discovery changed his views on conservation and biodiversity.
“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,” he said. “All the sudden we have fifteen-fold increase in diversity in this particular group – just because we did a detailed study.”
“That tells us something about biodiversity in general. The more we look, the more we discover,” the professor added.
The research has been published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.