UC Davis Professors Ask Public to Help Name New Spider Species

Spider
A picture of a female specimen of the genus Cryptocteniza. Jason Bond

An unnamed spider species lurks in the sand dunes of Monterey County's Moss Landing State Beach and UC Davis scientists need your help naming it.

UC Davis Professor of Entomology and Nematology Jason Bond recently appeared on Assistant Professor of Teaching Joel Ledford’s Tree of Life-UC Davis YouTube channel to discuss the discovery of this new, unique species of trapdoor spider and the upcoming paper describing it.

“It is remarkable in that it occurs in a relatively narrow section of sand dunes and has no geographically close relative,” said Ledford, who is a co-author on the upcoming paper and is formally trained in spider taxonomy. “It is being placed in a new genus (Cryptocteniza), but we would like input on the specific epithet.”

Bond and Ledford are asking the public to help name the species. So Cryptocteniza ________? The blank is where your creativity comes in. The Cryptocteniza part of the name is partly derived from the spider’s “hidden nature.”

Bond discovered the unnamed trapdoor spider species in 1997 during a field expedition to Moss Landing State Beach, an area he frequented to study California trapdoor spiders (Bothriocyrtum califonicum). Trapdoor spiders are sneaky predators. They burrow underground and cover themselves with a “trapdoor” constructed from environmental materials (like sand) and silk. When prey pass by, the trapdoor spider bursts forth, snaring the unsuspecting creature and dragging it into its subterranean lair.

While digging up trapdoor spiders, Bond found a specimen unlike anything he’d seen before.

“I immediately sort of thought to myself that it looked like a new genus of trapdoor spider,” he said during his interview with Ledford.

Bond collected female specimens, but in order to complete the picture of a new species, he needed male specimens. What followed was 22 years of unsuccessful searching. But science is an endeavor of patience.

In fall 2018, a photograph of a male trapdoor spider (the species unidentifiable) was posted to the app iNaturalist. Outfitted with geographic coordinates, Bond and his team worked with California State Parks to set up traps to capture the spiders. In September 2019, they finally collected a male specimen.

“It’s really unusual to discover a new species, a new genus, in the field,” Bond told Ledford. “Those sorts of discoveries today are usually from specimens that are found in museum collections.”

According to Bond, specimens of new species can sit on shelves of museum collections for decades before a taxonomist comes along and describes it.

Bond is no stranger to naming new species. He’s named spiders after Star Wars’ characters (Aptostichus sarlacc) and even named one after talk show host and comedian Stephen Colbert (Aptostichus stephencolberti).

I was thinking it’d be a nice idea to sort of ask the public to…give us some ideas about who or what they might like to name this species,” said Bond.

Those interested in helping name the species should add their suggestions to the comments section of the YouTube video. Bond and Ledford will select the best name from the list of suggestions.

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