Bernie Sanders is making a comeback as a smiley spider

27 Sep 2017

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. Image: Diego G Diaz/Shutterstock

Despite missing out on the Democratic nomination for US president last year, senator Bernie Sanders’ legacy will live on as a smiley spider.

Bernie Sanders will join David Attenborough, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio, who have for years been miscategorised as a single species of spider spanning two continents.

No, this is not crazy talk, but the work of a team of Vermont researchers, which has identified 15 new smiley-faced species of spider and has decided to name them after some celebrities.

Bernie spider

A female Bernie Sanders spider. Image: Agnarsson lab

Publishing its findings in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, the spiders’ official designations now include Spintharus davidattenboroughi, S. barackobamai, S. michelleobamaae and S. berniesandersi as well as S. davidbowiei and S. leonardodicaprioi.

For years, all of these spiders were believed to be a part of a single species that spread from the top of North America down to northern Brazil under the genus Spintharus, named for its familiar smiley pattern on its abdomen.

However, detailed genetic analysis of spiders from across the spectrum gradually revealed a much bigger picture, and that one widespread species was actually many endemic ones.

Bernie Sanders drawing

A not-so accurate representation of S. berniesandersi. Image: Glynnis Fawkes

A spider of hope

In explaining why she chose to name the species after Bernie Sanders, researcher Lily Sargeant said that the Vermont senator “presents a feeling of hope”.

“Our time on this earth is limited,” she said. “But I think that ideas are not that way. It is my hope that through naming that spider after Bernie, we can remember the ideas that he has at this pivotal point in the life of our nation.”

In the case of Leonardo DiCaprio, researcher Chloe Van Patten said that even though her choice stems back to a “high-school obsession” with the actor, she cares even more about him now for his environmental work.

The team believes that with further research, it could find even more, as has been highlighted by the study’s lead and University of Vermont researcher, Ingi Agnarsson.

In his view, the discovery emphasises a need for greater conservation efforts to prevent hundreds of new species from disappearing, given that they found 15 new species of spider in just one group.

“We need to understand and protect biodiversity in its many forms, and we felt compelled to recognise leaders that understand this,” Agnarsson said.

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. Image: Diego G Diaz/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic