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'Smiley faced' spiders named for David Bowie, Bernie Sanders

Researchers name a batch of newly discovered spider species after politicians and celebrities, including Michelle Obama and David Attenborough.

S. davidbowiei has face-like markings on its abdomen.

Agnarsson Lab/University of Vermont

Say hello to S. davidbowiei, a charming yellow spider with dark markings. This critter is named for musician David Bowie, but it's not the only one of its kind to receive an interesting name. 

A research team led by scientists at the University of Vermont and the Caribbean Biogeograpy Project discovered 15 new species of "smiley faced" spiders, named for the distinctive markings on their abdomens. Now some of the spiders are named after former US President Barack Obama, former First Lady Michelle Obama, naturalist David Attenborough, US Senator Bernie Sanders, pop star David Bowie and actor Leonard DiCaprio. 

"In naming these spiders, the students and I wanted to honor people who stood up for both human rights and warned about climate change -- leaders and artists who promoted sensible approaches for a better world," said lead researcher and spider expert Ingi Agnarsson from the University of Vermont.

Spintharus berniesandersi bears a resemblance to the David Bowie spider.

Agnarsson Lab/University of Vermont

The spiders' formal names are Spintharus barackobamai, S. michelleobamaae, S. davidattenboroughi, S. berniesandersi, S. davidbowiei and S. leonardodicaprioi. 

The bounty of new arachnids is due to a rethinking of the spiders, which were originally thought to be all the same species. Researchers studied specimens found in locations ranging from South Carolina to Cuba and Colombia and discovered a variety of species. Agnarsson says the spiders are hard to tell apart by looks alone, but DNA data shows they are distinct.  

Not every spider in the bunch got a celebrity name. The researchers named some of the other newly discovered species after family members.

The team published its findings this week in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society with the title "A radiation of the ornate Caribbean 'smiley-faced spiders', with descriptions of 15 new species."