Some of Australia’s spiders have terrifying names. Funnelweb and Redback are names that scream danger. Even the helpful Huntsman Spider sounds like it could be out to get you. But not all spiders have scary names. How would you feel about meeting a spider called Sparklemuffin?
“Sparklemuffin is a beautiful peacock spider, Maratus jactatus, with a lovely blue and orange body,” says spider expert Robert Whyte. And it’s not the only spider with a funny name. “Another peacock spider was nicknamed Skeletorus, and it actually looks like a skeleton costume.”
Uncommon common names
These strange names might seem silly, but they can actually be useful. “Odd names help you remember spiders,” says Robert. “The Dew Drop Spider, which lives in the webs of Golden Orb-weavers and steals their food, actually looks like a dew drop sparkling in the sun.”
What’s in a scientific name?
These fun common names are only half of the spider story. Known spiders, just like all other described species, also have a scientific name. It’s a double-barrelled wonder, known as a binomial name. Though they might be more serious than common names, that doesn’t stop scientists from having a little fun now and then.
“A lot of spiders are named after people, especially in olden times when explorers wanted to honour their benefactors, hoping for more money to pay for yet another expedition,” says Robert. Someone named a jumping spider after Robert, Cytaea whytei. Sadly for him, it was found to be an already named spider Cytaea haematica, so scientists use the older name instead. As a consolation, Robert still has the species Maddisonia whytei named in his honour.
Advice for naming species
If you’ve discovered a new species of spider, what naming advice does Robert have? “There are rules about naming, which stop you using offensive names, but you can use cute names like Abracadabrella, which is a genus of jumping spiders. These species mimic a fly with two large blobs like fly eyes on their rear end.” The scientist who named the spider, Marek Zabka, must have thought this was pretty magical. Naming is a science with a dash of art and imagination!
To find out more about Australia’s amazing spiders, pick up a copy of A Field Guide To Spiders Of Australia by Robert Whyte and Greg Anderson.