Planet Earth

Your Weekly Attenborough: Cavisternum attenboroughi

The tale of an unfortunate goblin spider.

By Nathaniel ScharpingMay 5, 2018 1:56 AM


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[Editor's note: So, it turns out that there are actually two species of goblin spider named after David Attenborough! I've already written about one, Prethopalpus attenboroughi, but I've just stumbled across another. It's cool, and also a weird coincidence — though, to be fair, the papers describing the species do share a coauthor. Big David Attenborough fan, I guess. In any case, it's cringe-y enough when you're the new guy in the office and someone already has your name. I can only imagine what that would be like if you'd just gotten your species name. So, I did.]


This hastily Photoshopped image of Prethopalpus attenboroughi was included in the envelope as well. (Credit: Unknown)

This came to the Discover offices in a poorly marked envelope held shut by spider silk. "I want to set the record straight" was scrawled across the front. It purports to be the diary of a member of the genus Cavisternum, a group of goblin spiders in Australia, describing a series of unfortunate events that robbed him of the name "Attenborough's goblin spider".

While we couldn't ascertain its authenticity, we decided it fit with the topic of this blog and might be of interest to readers.


Well, this is awkward. I had been looking forward to this for months. The big Oonopidae meeting, when the whole phylogenetic family gets together, the one that happens once every like, 20 generations was here, and it was gonna be my big moment.

For the first time, I'd be recognized with the other goblin spiders as a named species, no longer relegated to the lowly ranks of "the unnamed" and stuck in the back of the old dead tree that serves as a conference hall.

For generations, my Australian ancestors have suffered the myriad minor indignities foisted upon our class — the guarded glances other goblin spiders shoot our way, the smothered sneers that flit from face to face, the abysmal credit ratings.

All because some scientist tromping through the forest hadn't yet happened to ram a pin through our abdomens and bestow a ridiculous latinized honorific upon us.

But that was in the past. My great-great-great-great-grandfather, bless his six eyes, must have sold his soul or something because we got named. A bunch of scientists on a "bush blitz" found him hanging out under a leaf trying to snag a meal, and bam, there you go: Cavisternum attenboroughi.

It took a bit to be official (you know what peer review is like), so I'm the first of my name. And named after a famous naturalist to boot. So you can picture me last week, swaggering up to the big goblin spider hullaballoo like I just wrestled a cockroach to the ground.

The first one of my species to ever get a name. That's a big deal, for those of you who may have forgotten what it feels like. I almost shouted it out loud, just to hear it. Hell, it turns out they even wanted to give me an award!

"Attenborough's goblin spider to receive honors," the posters read.

"Don't mind if do," I thought.

But, they must have messed up, I thought, because the picture wasn't even me! It was some jabroni from Prethopalpus!

Well, the first glimmers of uncertainty hadn't crept in yet, but they should have. The big kickoff was about to begin, so I figured I'd just head in and we'd clear up the confusion on stage while I was delivering my gracious acceptance speech.

You probably know what happened next, so I won't bother recounting it. All I'll say is that when I saw him standing up there with that lazy smirk I went through the five stages of grief in about 10 seconds. Well, actually just the first two — I made a pretty hard stop at anger.

I know I was branded a jealous maniac in the weeks afterward, but you've got to understand — when something that's been given to you is taken away, it's tough to just sit there.

I've still got a dent in my scutum from hopping over the barricades — the rest is a blur. I probably shouldn't have rushed the stage like that, I admit, and the less we say about our "petty wrestling match", over the award itself, the better. It was not one of my finer moments.

Suffice to say, I'm glad they let me keep the name at all. At home, surrounded by my hundreds of children, I can forget that "Attenborough's goblin spider" doesn't belong to me.

I don't need to belong to some British guy to be happy. Though if you see him, maybe just let him know — I've heard he's a big nature fan.

Bonus Attenborough Fact of the Week: David Attenborough almost got killed while filming dolphins.

Last Week's Attenborough: Platysaurus attenboroughi

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