September 12, 2011

Spider named in honor of biology professor

Professor Greta Binford, an expert in venomous spiders, now shares her name with a newly discovered species.

Though Professor Greta Binford’s name is widely known for her expertise in venomous spiders, it now also represents a new species of arachnid: the Austrarchaea binfordae.

A recent Oregonian profile calls Binford a “superstar arachnologist” and explores how she first became interested in working with spiders.

Binford’s arachnological research has taken her around the world, leading to discoveries about the evolution of venom toxins in related spider species. After collaborating with colleagues from the Australasian Arachnological Society to identify spiders, Binford—an associate professor of biology—learned that a newly discovered species would share her name.

Austrarchaea binfordae can only be found in lowland subtropical rain forest habitats near Wauchope, New South Wales. Researchers Michael Nix and Mark Harvey, who made the discovery, honored Binford for, “her pioneering research on spider venoms.”

Though Binford has not yet seen her namesake in person, she can already attest to its unique features.

“It has a very large head compared to its body and long neck,” Binford said. “It almost looks like a giraffe and it eats other spiders.”

Of the honor, Binford told her hometown newspaper that she is overwhelmed, excited, and very humbled.

“Not only is it an honor for me, but for my entire family, as it has our family name,” Binford said. “To know that you will be associated with something permanent is really something I can’t describe.”

This honor is the latest in a series of accolades for Binford, who recently received funding from the National Science Foundation, appeared on the PBS program Nova, and starred in a children’s book.

This is not the first time a Lewis & Clark professor has enjoyed scientific naming rights. Last summer, Assistant Professor of Biology Peter Kennedy helped name a species of mushroom after a cartoon character—Spongiforma squarepantsii. Kennedy and colleagues from Stanford and Berkeley discovered the new sponge-like mushroom while on a fungus-hunting mission in Borneo. Kennedy also has conducted research on fungi in such distinct environments as Mexico and France.

Department of Biology