A Spider Named Brian

New species from Australia gets an especially "common" name.

When I was growing up, I knew a lot of Brians. In eighth grade, I once was one of five Brians in a class of about 30, leading to all kinds of confusion. (I wasn't even the only Brian H.) There is, of course, a Monty Python movie of a certain name. And in France, I recently learned, in many English language classes, Brian was once the default name for an American boy.

And now I share a name with a spider.  

Scientists in Australia announced the discovery of a new species this week, Dolomedes briangreenei, or the Brian spider. This type of water spider waits on the surface until an insect, small fish, or tadpole comes near. The spider races to grab its quarry and then drags it to the shore to devour it.

The spider was found around Brisbane and is thought to be endemic to Queensland. It is known to feed on tadpoles of the invasive cane toad, helping keep that pest in check. (See how Australia's spiders are booming.)

The spider is thought to be harmless to people, though it can hunt prey up to three times its size. With its sensitive legs, it can feel vibrations in the water made by its targets. The spider can both scuttle across the surface of water and swim through it, where it is adept at hiding on the bottom.

The dark spider has long legs. Males have bold white stripes along the sides of their heads while females have narrower, fawn-colored stripes. (Meet these kinky spiders.)

The spider was named for Columbia University physicist Brian Greene, an homage to the animal's ability to detect and navigate by subtle waves in the water (waves are a fundamental phenomenon in physics).  

“It’s wonderful that this beautiful native spider, which relies on waves for its very survival, has found a namesake in a man who is one of the world’s leading experts in exploring and explaining the effects of waves in our universe,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said at the public unveiling of the new species at the World Science Festival Brisbane on Wednesday. (See when millions of spiders rained down on the countryside.)

Greene told the Brisbane Times: "I was talking to my wife and was saying if we were to do this in New York, we would have to name a cockroach after somebody, so it is so much more gratifying to have a spider, so thank you for this honor."

I'm just glad the name wasn't spelled Bryan spider.

Follow Brian Clark Howard on Twitter and Google+.     
  

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