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Sch­warzeneg­ger’s Spider

Newsweek - - Con­tents - BY AN­DREW WHALEN @And­whalen

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

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