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Object of Intrigue: The Spider Named After David Bowie

Heteropoda davidbowie is found in parts of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and possibly Thailand. The pictured spider was seen in Singapore. (Photo by: Seshadri.K.S/Wikipedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

As the death of rock legend David Bowie is mourned across the globe, perched on a leaf somewhere in Southeast Asia is another, more leggy David Bowie, entirely unaware of its namesake’s passing.

The spider known as Heteropoda davidbowie was named in 2008 by Dr. Peter Jäger, a German arachnologist at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt. While the David Bowie spider is only found in parts of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, Jäger discovered the species when Germans who owned the spider as a pet sent him photos requesting to identify it for them. Jäger realized that these spiders were a kind of huntsman spider that had previously been mistaken for a similar-looking species, the Heteropoda javana.

What makes the electric yellow Heteropoda davidbowie stand out is “the very striking color pattern on its front,” says Jäger. According to Jäger, this is “THE trait” used to identify the spider, and is a rarity among huntsmen. “Usually you need a stereomicroscope in a lab to make a proper identification for these usually very similarly colored species,” he says.

The huntsman spider, unlike the sinister creature described in Bowie’s song “Glass Spider,” does not trap its prey in a web, but rather stalks and pounces upon its victims and injects them with venom. Adult David Bowie spiders can be found clinging to tree bark, while younger ones have been found on the forest floor in leaf litter or in the leaves of shrubs and trees.

As for the reason behind its name, Jäger says that he names the spiders he discovers after “VIPs”—politicians, comedians, and German rockstars, for example—but that “David was immediately the star of them all.”

David Bowie on his Glass Spider tour in 1987. (Photo by: Elmar J. Lordemann/Wikipedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 de)