A newly discovered species of spider with an abdomen covered in striking red and white splotches reminded researchers of Batman comics’ villain the Joker’s iconic face paint—so they named it after the actor Joaquin Phoenix, who starred in 2019’s Joker, reports Mindy Weisberger for Live Science.
The spider in question was dubbed Loureedia phoenixi by spider researchers Alireza Zamani and Yuri Marusik at the University of Turku in Finland who described it in the journal Arthropoda Selecta. The new species is a type of velvet spider, and its genus, that is the first half of its Latin name, was named for Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed.
L. phoenixi was discovered in Iran, reports Rachael Funnell of IFL Science, and it’s the first time researchers have spotted a velvet spider outside the Mediterranean. Most velvet spiders, named for the soft-looking hairs covering their bodies, are mostly found in Eurasia and some parts Africa, reports Stacy Liberatore for the Daily Mail. One unusual species of velvet spider found in Africa lives in colonies of hundreds of spiders in which the baby spiders eventually eat the bodies of the unmated female spiders that raised them.
Zamani tells IFL Science he first saw L. phoenixi in a photo posted to social media, and then managed to collect one in the field in 2016 only to lose its tiny 0.3-inch body en route to his lab. Undeterred, Zamani shared information about the boldly colored arachnid with local naturalists along with a request that they collect anything they saw that fit the description.
“This resulted in the collection of the new material that we used in our paper (and several other new species of velvet spiders), and gathering of many photographic records,” Zamani tells IFL Science.
So far, only two males of the new species have been described from specimens collected in the Alborz province of Iran, per the Daily Mail. Zamani tells the Daily Mail, “the cryptic female remains undiscovered.”
Finding the hard to spot females of the species could prove challenging, since Loureedia spiders mostly live underground, with just the males emerging from their burrows for around three weeks a year between October and November, according to Live Science.
"Ideally, if you have enough time and patience, it would be interesting to track a wandering male. He should know how to find the female better than anyone else," Zamani tells Live Science. "This way, you would also have the chance of observing and photographing the actual mating behavior, which has not been documented for any Loureedia species yet."