New spiders get the Enid Blyton treatment
Classic English children’s author inspires Sri Lankan arachnid researchers. Andrew P Street reports.
Six newly discovered species of spider have been named after Enid Blyton characters.
The spiders are all members of a taxonomic family known as Oonopidae, colloquially referred to as goblin spiders. The formal species names accorded to them by arachnologists U.G.S.L. Ranasinghe and Suresh Benjamin from Sri Lanka’s National Institute of Fundamental Studies take this as their cue.
“My son and daughter had discovered some old Enid Blyton books of mine and my siblings while playing at my parent's place,” Benjamin explains.
“The first story I read to them was the The Firework Goblins – and we are always looking for names for new species.”
The spiders thus ended up named after the Blyton goblin characters Snooky, Tumpy, Chippy, Snippy and Tiggy, as well as her “little drummer boy”, Bom.
Formally, thus, the species fall into three goblin spider genera, and, following the publication of a paper in the journal Evolutionary Systematics will henceforth forever be known as Cavisternum bom, Ischnothyreus chippy, Pelicinus snooky, P. tumpy, Silhouettella snippy and S. tiggy.
In some of these cases, however, “forever” may turn out to be a rather limited concept.
Goblin spiders are found throughout the tropical world and are generally tiny, six-eyed and live in leaf litter or forest canopies. Previous estimates of the number of species hover around the 2000 mark, although this study of 100 sites in Sri Lankan rainforest suggests that it might be an underestimate.
Several of the new discoveries appear to have incredibly limited range, found exclusively in a single isolated patch of forest floor.
Deforestation is a major problem in Sri Lanka, thanks partially to timber being a large export industry and partially because of clearing for cash crops – historically tea, more recently biofuel.
Ranasinghe and Benjamin suggest that, given their small range and precarious numbers, the new species “may prove to be important flagship taxa for monitoring the effects of climate change and other threats on forest habitats in Sri Lanka”.
Clearly, they are going to need all the goblin magic they can get.