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Australian spider named for world champion surfer

  • Pisauridae mickfanningi is a newly discovered species of water spider named in the surfer’s honor.
  • The Queensland Museum actually let the public name the new species as part of the World Science Festival Brisbane, which took place in late March. The public was asked to submit names inspired by the science festival and its setting in Queensland.
  • Brazilian arachnologist and surfing fan Hector Manuel Osório Gonzalez Filho submitted the name mickfanningi for the new water spider as a tribute to Fanning, whose favorite surfing spot is said to be Snapper Rocks in Queensland.

Australian Mick Fanning is a three-time world champion surfer, and now he has another accolade to his name: an eponymous spider species.

Pisauridae mickfanningi is a newly discovered species of water spider named in the surfer’s honor.

The Queensland Museum actually let the public name the new species as part of the World Science Festival Brisbane, which took place in late March. The public was asked to submit names inspired by the science festival and its setting in Queensland.

Brazilian arachnologist and surfing fan Hector Manuel Osório Gonzalez Filho submitted the name mickfanningi for the new water spider as a tribute to Fanning, whose favorite surfing spot is said to be Snapper Rocks in Queensland.

“Both Mick Fanning and the Queensland scientists who discovered this new species of spider are world leaders in their respective fields, so it’s fitting to bring the two together in this way,” Queensland Premier and Arts Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk said in a statement.

This isn’t the first time the World Science Festival Brisbane inspired the name of a new spider species. “In 2016, we named a surfing spider Dolomedes briangreenei in honour of World Science Festival co-founder and astrophysicist Brian Greene,” according to Queensland Museum Network CEO and Director Professor Suzanne Miller, “and this year the surfing theme has followed suit, with the winning entry named for the Australian surfing legend.”

Pisauridae mickfanningi male (left) and female (right). Photo courtesy of Queensland Museum.

The spider was discovered by Queensland Museum arachnologist Robert Raven and his team at the museum’s arachnology unit, who have collectively described over 1,000 new species of spider. Raven said that Pisauridae mickfanningi, which he gave the common name Masked Wood Spider, is a delicate and ornate species native to the vine thickets and rainforests around Lamington National Park.

“What makes this species even more special is that it has a very distinct colour pattern and quite different genitalia, which makes it quite easy to differentiate between others in the group,” Raven said.

Many spider species in the family Pisauridae, also known as Nursery web spiders, are capable of walking on the surface of calm bodies of water and have been known to dive beneath the surface to evade predators. “Some spiders in this family wait for prey at the water’s edge,” according to an online field guide to Australia’s spiders. “Their front legs rest on the surface, sensing vibrations. They can grab tadpoles or fish swimming past, or race across the water to seize insects that fall in. Some Pisaurids form underwater retreats in large air bubbles, others make their webs in green leaves of shrubs.”

The new spider’s range is not far from Fanning’s favorite break, Snapper Rocks in Gold Coast, a city south of Brisbane on Australia’s east coast. The surfer said that having a spider named after him was an unexpected but welcome bit of recognition for his career.

“It was certainly a surprise to learn that there will be a little water spider out there that is named in my honour,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome to know that the spider is quite local to the Gold Coast and only a short drive from Snapper.”

A spider with the same pattern as mickfanningi on its back. Photo Credit: Ben Revell.

Follow Mike Gaworecki on Twitter: @mikeg2001

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