Two soccer-mad arachnologists from Murdoch University’s Harry Butler Institute have named a new spider genus after their favourite game and paid tribute to Australian sporting legend, the late Johnny Warren, with a new species in his honour.
Dr Volker Framenau and Dr Pedro Castanheira, with Dr Cor Vink from Lincoln University, established the new genus, Socca (Latinised form of ‘soccer’), following a comprehensive study of orb-weaving spiders found in Australia and New Zealand.
Within the genus are 12 species, of which nine are new to science including Socca johnnywarreni named after Australian soccer player and commentator Johnny Warren MBE, OAM (1943–2004).
The spider scientists also discovered and named the species’ Socca pleia, Socca arena, and Socca levyashini, the latter named after 1960s Soviet goalkeeper Lev Yashin who was known as ‘The Black Spider’ and regarded by many as the greatest goalkeeper in the history of the sport.
Not all of the new species have a football-related name, the Socca genus has unique abdominal tubercles and genitalia and Socca elvispresleyi was coined for the male spider’s ‘terminal apopphyis’ of the pedipalp (its genitalic organ) that resemble its namesake’s quaffed hairstyle.
Over their careers, Dr Framenau and Dr Castanheira, who originally hail from Germany and Brazil respectively, have named many spiders, including two after their wives.
But this time, when tasked with naming a genus and several new species, they looked to the sport at the forefront of everyone’s minds this year, the game they had grown up with and, in Dr Framenau’s case, still play.
The discoveries were published in the New Zealand Journal of Zoology and at the end of the article, the acknowledgments include:
In a taxonomic paper celebrating soccer or football, VWF particularly acknowledges all past teammates and volunteer members of the clubs he has played for in the past, for their friendship and the rewarding time away from work and study, i.e. 1. FC 23 Hambach (Germany; 1977–1992), Melbourne University Blues Soccer Club (Australia; 1997–1998); North Beach Soccer Club (Australia; 2005–2014) and Perth Hills United Football Club (Australia; 2015–current).
Dr Castanheira grew up in Rio de Janeiro where he said, “soccer was life”. He began his career as a science teacher, but later studied zoology at Museu Nacional do Rio de Janeiro specialising in taxonomy before moving to Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia.
“My interest in spiders developed over time, I was not a spiderman fan or anything like that, but the more I worked with spiders, the more interesting I found them,” he said.
“They are intriguing, they are predators but they can also be very beautiful.
“Naming spiders can also be fascinating, like with Socca elvispresleyi, when we saw that part of the male genitalia looked just like Elvis’ hair, there was only one thing we could name it.
“But recognising football or soccer is special for us and we are very proud and grateful to have done so.”
New Australo-Pacific orb-weaving genus
Socca Framenau, Castanheira & Vink, 2022
Socca arena Framenau, Castanheira & Vink, 2022
Socca australis Framenau, Castanheira & Vink, 2022
Socca caiguna Framenau, Castanheira & Vink, 2022
Socca elvispresleyi Framenau, Castanheira & Vink, 2022
Socca eugeni Framenau, Castanheira & Vink, 2022
Socca johnnywarreni Framenau, Castanheira & Vink, 2022
Socca kullmanni Framenau, Castanheira & Vink, 2022
Socca levyashini Framenau, Castanheira & Vink, 2022
Socca pleia Framenau, Castanheira & Vink, 2022
Reclassified into Socca genus
Socca senicaudata (Simon, 1908)
Socca sydneyica (Keyserling, 1887)
Socca pustulosa (Walckenaer, 1841)