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Australia announces a new spider species called ‘Brian’

  • Dolomedes briangreenei, nicknamed “Brian,” is a newly described species of water spider that lives in Queensland.
  • The spider was named after U.S. physicist Brian Greene, and finds prey by sensing vibrational waves.
  • The spiders eat fish, frogs, and tadpoles – including those of the highly invasive and ecologically destructive cane toad.

Brian pushes off from the rock wall, surfing along the pool’s surface before plunging into its depths. Legs outstretched, Brian seizes a fish and swims quickly under a rock to consume it, eight eyes alert for predators while quick mouthparts make short work of the prey.

Unlike most Brians, this Brian isn’t a human. No, Brian is the nickname of a species of water spider discovered recently in the northern Australian state of Queensland and announced yesterday at the World Science Festival in Brisbane.

Brian’s proper name is Dolomedes briangreenei, given in honor of prominent U.S. physicist Brian Greene due to of their common interest: waves. Brian the spider uses waves to find prey and navigate its world, while Brian the physicist uses waves to study the universe.

“With the announcement last month of humankind’s first detection of gravitational waves — ripples on the surface of space and time — I am particularly honored to be so closely associated with a spider that has its own deep affinity for waves,” said Greene, who is a professor at Columbia University.

Male Brian spiders (Dolomedes briangreenei) have broad, white stripes along the sides of their heads while females like this one have narrower, tan stripes. Photo courtesy of the Queensland Museum.

Dolomedes briangreenei is a large, dark spider about the size of the palm of a hand. It hunts by waiting at the water’s edge, feeling for disturbances that indicate something may be moving nearby. Not only can D. briangreenei swim underwater to catch prey and evade predators, but it can also scuttle along the surface via its two middle pairs of legs.

The spiders eat primarily fish, frogs, and tadpoles – including those of the invasive cane toad (Rhinella marinus). Purposefully introduced from Hawaii in the 1930s in an attempt to control pests in sugar cane fields, the toads exploded in number and have become a scourge in Australia. Cane toads have been linked to the decline of native species, many of which die after eating the poisonous amphibians. The Queensland Museum notes in its press release that in eating cane toad tadpoles, the new Brian spiders are “making a significant contribution to the management of this Queensland pest.”

The announcement of the newly described water spider came from Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk at the World Science Festival, which kicked off yesterday and will run until March 13.

“It’s wonderful that this beautiful native spider, which relies on waves for its very survival, has found a namesake in a man who is one of the world’s leading experts in exploring and explaining the effects of waves in our universe,” Palaszczuk said.