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9 Spiders and the Stars They Were Named For

When I read that a new spider species was named Heteropoda davidbowie in honor of David Bowie, it reminded me of several other celebrities whose names were enshrined in taxonomy because there are so many new spiders being discovered as distinct species. With a little digging, even more star spiders turned up!

1. David Bowie

German arachnologist Peter Jaeger has discovered 200 species of spiders in the past decade, and has now named one of his finds after singer David Bowie. The new species, a large yellow spider in Malaysia, is called Heteropoda davidbowie. Jaeger said he named the spider to draw attention to the discovery, and to raise awareness of the endangered status of many spiders. Bowie had a 1972 album entitled The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and his 1987 tour was named the Glass Spider Tour.

2. Neil Young

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Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi is a trapdoor spider first discovered in Alabama in 2007. It was described by taxonomist and spider systematist Jason E. Bond and Norman I. Platnick of the American Museum of Natural History. Bond named the creature for Neil Young because he enjoyed his music and respected his work as an activist.

3. Orson Welles

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An entire genus of giant Hawaiian linyphiid spiders are named after filmmaker Orson Welles. There are several species in the genus Orsonwelles, including Orsonwelles othello, Orsonwelles macbeth, Orsonwelles falstaffius, Orsonwelles bellum, Orsonwelles toledus, and Orsonwelles ambersonorum. These names can be linked to roles he played or movies he made. You can thank biologist Gustavo Hormiga for naming these spiders.

4. Stephen Colbert

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Aptostichus stephencolberti was named for political satirist  Stephen Colbert after he pretty much demanded the honor upon hearing that Neil Young had a spider named after him. Colbert's is a California trapdoor spider first described by East Carolina University biologist Jason E. Bond, who was also responsible for naming Neil Young's spider.

5. Nelson Mandela

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Stasimopus mandelai is a trapdoor spider found in South Africa. The species was named in 2004 by zoologists Brent E. Hendrixson and Jason E. Bond in honor of the former South African president.

6. Harrison Ford

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The spider Calponia harrisonfordi was named for the star of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars in thanks after Ford narrated a documentary for the London Museum of Natural History in 1994. Arachnologist Norman I. Platnick discovered the spider in 1993. It is tiny, only around 5 millimeters in length, and lives in California.

7. Angelina Jolie

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Aptostichus angelinajoleae is another species named by Jason E. Bond, this time in collaboration with Amy Stockman. It is a California trapdoor spider that is closely related to Stephen Colbert's spider. In fact, there is some doubt about whether the two species are different.

8. Dizzy Dean

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Mastophora dizzydeani is a bolas spider. It makes a sticky ball on a short thread from its silk. The spider swings the ball at its insect prey to trap them. This particular species was discovered by William G. Eberhard and named for baseball player Dizzy Dean.

Since this spider's livelihood depends on throwing a ball fast and accurately, it seems appropriate to name it in honor of one of the greatest baseball pitchers of all time, Jerome "Dizzy" Dean.

Dean threw for the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930s and '40s and is a Hall of Famer.

9. Frank Zappa

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The orb weaver spider Pachygnatha zappa was discovered by Robert Bosmans and Jan Bosselaers during expeditions to Mount Cameroon in 1981 and 1983. They presented the species in 1994. They noticed markings under the spider's abdomen that reminded them of musician Frank Zappa. His moustache in particular.

"Etymology. Zappa is a noun in apposition. This species epithet is given in honor of the twentieth century composer Frank Zappa (1941-1993), well known for both his serious and commercial music. The dark grey mark on the ventral side of the abdomen of the female of this species strikingly resembles the artist's legendary moustache (Fig. 69)"

Frank Zappa also had a jellyfish (Phialella zappai) and a fish genus (Zappa, a genus of Gobiidae) named in his honor, but the spider is the only one of the three that resembled him.

If you think a spider should be named after you, there are several scientific departments you can contact to try your luck.

See also: 10 Animals Named After Celebrities.

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History
The Queen of Code: Remembering Grace Hopper
By Lynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Grace Hopper was a computing pioneer. She coined the term "computer bug" after finding a moth stuck inside Harvard's Mark II computer in 1947 (which in turn led to the term "debug," meaning solving problems in computer code). She did the foundational work that led to the COBOL programming language, used in mission-critical computing systems for decades (including today). She worked in World War II using very early computers to help end the war. When she retired from the U.S. Navy at age 79, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the service. Hopper, who was born on this day in 1906, is a hero of computing and a brilliant role model, but not many people know her story.

In this short documentary from FiveThirtyEight, directed by Gillian Jacobs, we learned about Grace Hopper from several biographers, archival photographs, and footage of her speaking in her later years. If you've never heard of Grace Hopper, or you're even vaguely interested in the history of computing or women in computing, this is a must-watch:

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science
Why Are Glaciers Blue?
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iStock

The bright azure blue sported by many glaciers is one of nature's most stunning hues. But how does it happen, when the snow we see is usually white? As Joe Hanson of It's Okay to Be Smart explains in the video below, the snow and ice we see mostly looks white, cloudy, or clear because all of the visible light striking its surface is reflected back to us. But glaciers have a totally different structure—their many layers of tightly compressed snow means light has to travel much further, and is scattered many times throughout the depths. As the light bounces around, the light at the red and yellow end of the spectrum gets absorbed thanks to the vibrations of the water molecules inside the ice, leaving only blue and green light behind. For the details of exactly why that happens, check out Hanson's trip to Alaska's beautiful (and endangered) Mendenhall Glacier below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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