Sunday, December 4, 2011

Spider Sunday: Spiders and Celebrities

Nobody has a neutral reaction to spiders, so it comes as no surprise that celebrities find themselves on one side of the fence or the other regarding their affection or disdain for the arachnid world.

Humorist David Sedaris has a fascination with the Giant House Spider, Tegenaria duellica. He wrote about them in the essay “April in Paris” in the book When You Are Engulfed in Flames. “April” is the name of one of the spiders that the author found inside his home in Normandy, France. He fed her flies and watched her behavior on his windowsill. He became so enamored that (in the essay at least) he took her to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower.

Actor Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory on CBS television pretended to be scared of spiders when he presented the word “arachnid” on an episode of Sesame Street. His real-life reaction is much more admirable: “….I’m not terribly afraid of them. I have a lot in my house, but I try not to kill them. I just shuffle them outside with a piece of paper.”

Dominic Monaghan of Lost fame is incredibly spider-friendly. He was set to join an expedition two or three years ago to re-discover an African tarantula, Hysterocrates hercules, known currently only from a museum specimen collected in Nigeria in the late 1890s (its description published in 1899). I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Mr. Monaghan at the annual “Bug Fair” in Los Angeles last May. He told me that the mission had yet to take place but that he was still optimistic that it would happen.

The spider-celebrity connection works the other way, too. Several recently-described species have been named after contemporary celebrities. Pachygnatha zappa immortalizes legendary rocker Frank Zappa. The species was collected on Mount Cameroon in Africa.

The North American trapdoor spider genus Aptostichus has species named after Angelina Jolie and Stephen Colbert. Jason Bond, the scientist and professor at East Carolina University who named these spiders also christened another trapdoor spider after Canadian musician Neil Young.

I hope that the celebrities feel honored to have arachnids bearing their namesakes. I know that I feel honored when I find arachnophiles anywhere, celebrities or not.

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