New Species of Recluse Spider Named for Leonard Cohen
By Alireza Zamani
Recluse spiders (Sicariidae: Loxosceles) are one of the most well-known groups of spiders to the public (especially in North America), thanks to their necrotic venom occasionally causing skin lesions, dermonecrosis, skin ulceration, and, in rare cases, death. Currently, more than 140 species of recluse spiders are known from around the globe, most of which have rather restricted ranges, with a few having been introduced to non-native habitats as a result of synanothrophy.
Personally, I have been fascinated by these spiders ever since I was a teenager. Although I have been collecting spiders since a very young age, it was the finding of L. rufescens as the first recluse spider in Iran that made a turning point for me toward the profession of arachnology and pursing biology as my major in university.
Recently, in a paper published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, titled “‘Burning Violin’: The Medically Important Spider Genus Loxosceles (Araneae: Sicariidae) in Iran, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan, With Two New Species,” my colleagues Omid Mirshamsi and Yuri M. Marusik and I surveyed the taxonomic and faunistic status of this group in these countries and provided a brief review on the reported cases of loxoscelism from this region. In our investigation, two species new to science were detected, one of which, Loxosceles coheni, we named and dedicated to the memory of the famous Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist Leonard Cohen.
I have been listening to Cohen’s music since a rather young age, especially more so during the recent years, which certainly helped with working during the cold, dark, and long winters of Finland, where I am pursuing my Ph.D. at the University of Turku. The phrase “burning violin” that we used in the title of the article is a pun: First, it is a reference to Leonard Cohen’s famous song “Dance Me to The End of Love,” and, second, it refers to the violin-shaped marking on the cephalothorax of these spiders (hence the common name “violin spiders”) and the “burning” nature of their venom, which in some cases can cause severe dermonecrosis, often leaving a permanent scar behind. I liken Cohen’s music to the venom of recluse spiders: It doesn’t affect everyone, but those who are affected by it carry a scar for the rest of their lives.
Considering the results of our paper, four species of Loxosceles occur in the region, two (including one described in this paper) of which are endemic to subterranean habitats of the Zagros Mountains in Iran, one occurring in Turkmenistan and Iran (described in this paper), and the Mediterranean recluse (Loxosceles rufescens), widely distributed in the region and recorded from many localities in Iran and Afghanistan. Considering their medical relevance and synanthropic nature, more taxonomic surveys are needed to clarify the species diversity and estimate the divergence (or invasion) history of this group in the region. Hopefully with the availability of fresh material in the future, this matter shall be reinvestigated using comprehensive morphological and molecular approaches.
Journal of Medical Entomology
Alireza Zamani is a Ph.D. candidate at the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku in Finland. Email: zamani.alireza5[AT]gmail.com.