in the 1987 movie predator, an alien stalks a team of Special Forces commandos, led by “Dutch” (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who cuts vines and sharpens sticks to build traps and take down the titular creature.
Some of Dutch’s techniques were recently adopted by a group of scientists, who happen to be fans of the film. They were in pursuit of a reallife predator, a new genus of goblin spider, which, like Dutch’s band of extraterrestrial hunting soldiers, fiercely dominate their ecosystems. Instead of snare traps and miniguns, the scientists set pitfall traps: PVC tubes filled with a mix of formalin preservative and detergent. They buried the traps just below the surface of the soil.
The tiny spiders—at 2-millimeter they are as along as a nickel is thick— move through the dirt, beneath the leaves that cover the forest floor. As they stalked their prey—mainly springtails and booklice—they would tumble into the pipes. The scientists later collected the dead specimens and used an artificial digestive enzyme to reveal internal soft tissue before analysis.
As if this imitation of the movie weren’t flattery enough, the scientists later dubbed the genus of goblin spiders Predatoroonops, after the alien. “We named the genus and the species in honor of the participants and the peculiarities of the film,” says Antonio Brescovit, an arachnologist with the Butantan Institute of São Paulo, who coordinated the survey of the forests.
The spiders are part of a tradition of science adopting pop culture names, including the Matt Groening crab, the Kate Winslet beetle, the Frank Zappa snail, the Dolly Parton lichen and a bee and a jellyfish named for Sheldon Cooper’s Big Bang Theory catchphrase, “Bazinga.” The goblin spider P. schwarzeneggeri isn’t even the first species named for Arnold; there’s a beetle with beefy arms (Agra schwarzeneggeri), as well as a minuscule fly that has unusually large forelegs (Megapropodiphora arnoldi).
Brescovit and his team got the naming idea when they noticed the goblin spider’s physical resemblance to the Predator alien. Examining the spiders through an LEO 1450VP scanning electron microscope, they spotted tarsal claws at the tip of their legs and fanged appendages— or chelicera—hanging in front of their mouths.
In all, the team collected 29 specimens, including 17 new species of the Predatoroonops spiders. Predatoroonops dutch is named for Schwarzenegger’s role, and Predatoroonops dillon for the Carl Weathers character, who Dutch says has been “pushing too many pencils” for the
It’s a tradition of science to adopt pop culture names, including the Kate Winslet beetle and Frank Zappa snail.”
CIA. Others bear the names of director John Mctiernan (P. mctiernani), the fictional country where Predator takes place (P. valverde) and the nickname Val Verde natives gave the “demon who makes trophies of men” (P. olddemon). “I looked at the film about 10 times, to ensure that the nomenclature was correct and that all were honored,” says Brescovit, who is as fastidious with his pop culture references as he is with his electron microscopy.
Brescovit described the discovery in the June 2012 issue of the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. In between descriptions of microscopic structures separating