Meet Brian, a newly discovered surfing spider from Australia

A species of spider just discovered in Queensland, Australia, has been observed surfing waves, swimming and diving underwater to catch its prey, which can include animals as big as frogs. The spider, which can grow to the size of an adult human’s palm, has been called Brian after the noted American theoretical physicist Brian Greene, who uses waves of a different sort (gravitational) to catch, consume and regurgitate his own prey (relative laws of the universe).

The Aussie Brian (formally known as Dolomedes briangreenei) sits or surfs along the edge of freshwater pools and streams on Australia’s east coast—mostly around the Brisbane area—sensing movement of creatures through the liquid beneath its eight legs. When it picks up telltale vibrations, the spider swims across the surface or dives underwater to seize its prey, before dragging it on to land to devour it.

Although harmless to humans, Brian is capable of killing and eating animals three times its own size, such as fish and frogs. It also munches on tadpoles, including those of invasive cane toads, the scourge of northern Australia, blamed for the disastrous decline of many native species, which die after consuming the poisonous amphibians.

In a release about the discovery of the species, Queensland Museum applauded Brians’ efforts, noting that the spiders are ‘making a significant contribution to the management of this Queensland pest.’

Discovered by the museum’s Principal Scientist of Arachnology, Dr Robert Raven, the new spider is dark, with long legs. Males have bold white stripes along the side of the head, but in female Brians the stripe is narrower and fawn coloured.

The species’ ability to swim is put to good use for both attacking and defensive purposes. ‘When disturbed or hauling in captured fish, they will plunge through the surface of the water and swim quickly to hide on the bottom,’ Dr Raven told the World Science Festival in Brisbane, where his discovery was announced.

‘With the announcement last month of humankind’s first detection of gravitational waves—ripples on the surface of space and time—I am particularly honoured to be so closely associated with a spider that has its own deep affinity for waves,’ said Dr Brian Greene, who attended the festival and was able to meet his new eight-eyed namesake.