Bug Blog

University Students Get to Name New Species of Smiley-Faced Spiders

University Students Get to Name New Species of Smiley-Faced Spiders

Usually when you are a student in college you don’t get much recognition in your academic field. Students assisting professors on research projects may be mentioned in tiny print in the dedication and acknowledgments included in the published book or article, but that’s about the most recognition even the best student can expect. One lucky group of students from the University of Vermont involved in a project down in the Caribbean got the chance of a lifetime this year when they stumbled across more than 15 new species of smiley-faced spiders in what was supposed to simply be an undergraduate research project. That is the kind of honor even most professional scientists never experience during their career.

A research team from the Caribbean Biogeography Project (CarBio)—spearheaded by Agnarsson of UVM’s Biology Department and Greta Binford at Lewis & Clark College, and including four lucky undergraduate students – made the discovery of a lifetime when they discovered over 15 new regional species of the smiley-faced spider down in the Caribbean. Previously, scientists had believed that there was just one main widespread species of the spider throughout all of North American and on down to northern Brazil. The smiley-faced spider, or Spintharus spider, is named after the pattern on their abdomens that resembles a smiley-face.

On top of the glory they received for the amazing discovery, the students also were allowed to christen the new insects. Names ranged from beloved family members to famous actors, musicians, and respected politicians. The students on the team “wanted to honor people who stood up for both human rights and warned about climate change—leaders and artists who promoted sensible approaches for a better world.” One notable figure recognized and immortalize forever in the name of one of the species is Bernie Sanders, who was actually chosen by the entire team. Other notable figures the different species were named after are David Bowie, former president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama, David Attenborough, and even heartthrob actor Leonardo DiCaprio.


If you had the chance to name a new species of insect who or what would you name it after?