Scientists look in spider web, discover the real Charlotte


The horrifying giant Orc-eating spider from Lord of the Rings is also real. Well, sort of. Andrew P Street reports.


Charlotte turns out to be real after all, but lives in a cave.
Charlotte turns out to be real after all, but lives in a cave.
Hanna Barbera

A team of Brazilian researchers has simultaneously revealed seven newly discovered species of spiders and a somewhat geeky taste in books.

Their paper, published in the journal ZooKeys by Antonio Brescovit, Igor Cizauskas and Leandro Mota, all of the Instituto Butantan in Sao Paulo, describes new species of the genus Ochyrocera, which inhabit the neotropical zone between Mexico and Brazil.

The spiders all have six eyes and dwell in caves in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, although they are not typical cave-spiders in that they have none of the typical evolutionary adaptations of species that exclusively live deep underground.

That’s all interesting stuff, but the most notable thing is that they’ve named the spiders after some high-quality popular culture.

First up are a couple of children’s classics: David Kirk's Little Miss Spider inspires the name of Ochyrocera misspider, and Ochyrocera charlotte pays tribute to the titular character of E. B. White's Charlotte's Web.

Things get darker with Ochyrocera atlachnacha, named for H.P. Lovecraft’s human-faced spider god Atlach-Nacha. However, clearly the researchers are big fans of fantasy.

Ochyrocera varys is named for a metaphorical spider: Lord Varys from George R. R. Martin's series A Song of Ice and Fire (the books upon which the TV series Game Of Thrones is based), who is nicknamed “the Spider” for his web of informants and spies.

J.R.R. Tolkien gets two nods with Ochyrocera laracna (named for the giant spider that attacks Frodo and Sam en route to Mordor in the second Lord of the Rings book, The Two Towers) and that spider’s mother gets her own species in Ochyrocera ungoliant in recognition of her role in the earlier volume, The Silmarillion.

And J.K. Rowling doesn’t get left out either: Ochyrocera aragogue namechecks the talking spider Aragog from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

And before you shake your head at this shameful trivialising of biological nomenclature, note that the researchers are merely following in a noble tradition of naming spiders after pop culture figures.

After all, you currently share a planet with such arachnids as Aptostichus bonoi, Calponia harrisonfordi, Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi, Aptostichus stephencolberti, Singafrotypa mandela, Aptostichus barackobamai, Aphonopelma johnnycashi, Loureedia annulipes and Aptostichus angelinajolieae.

Best of all, though, back in 2008 the late, great David Bowie was paid eight-legged tribute with the Malaysian huntsman spider Heteropoda davidbowie – despite the fact that we obviously should have reserved the name in case we ever find spiders on Mars.

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Andrew P Street is a widely published journalist, non-fiction author and former columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald.
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