Your Best Names for the Odd Picket Fence Maker

When I asked my readers to suggest names for the strange new species in the Amazon that had built a picket fence-like structure, you responded in droves.

Although you had plenty of creative and clever suggestions, you also disagreed on the type of organism making the structure. The two leading contenders are spiders and fungi. Honestly, the structure is bizarre enough to make either argument.

The picket fence of the Amazon. Photograph courtesy Troy S. Alexander, Tambopata Research Center
The picket fence of the Amazon. Photograph courtesy Troy S. Alexander, Tambopata Research Center

My initial hypothesis when I saw the pictures and before I spoke with Georgia Tech doctoral student Troy Alexander was that it was something made by a spider. But after reading your suggestions, I’m not quite as positive, because it does look rather fungal, too. (Also see “What’s This Mysterious Circle on the Seafloor?”)

The arguments for an altered spider web say that it’s either a way for the arachnid to trap food or as a sort of spider nursery. The structure’s fence posts seem to angle inward, noted several readers, which would imply that it’s meant to keep an item trapped inside the structure rather than keeping predators out.

It could be that the structure is meant to keep baby spiders from straying too far from safety and perhaps providing some measure of protection for the nest. Alternatively, the spider could have wrapped up a delicious morsel to preserve for later. (This takes restaurant doggie bags to a whole new level!)

Those in the fungi camp say that the main body of the organism is in the center of the structure, with hyphae—the long, branching filaments from which the fungi grows—forming the fence posts. Given the huge diversity of fungi and how little we know about them, it’s totally possible.

mysterious structure picture
The intricate object is less than an inch long. Photograph courtesy Troy S. Alexander, Tambopata Research Center

Other potential contenders include a cocoon for a moth or butterfly.

Those of you who suggested names generally favored the spider camp, but there were several notable exceptions. Here are a few of our favorites, in no particular order:

  • Araneam sepem (roughly, the Latin name for “fence spider”)
  • Bombyx saepemque (Latin for “silk fence”)
  • Stonehenge spider OR Druid spider (for building something that looks like Stonehenge)
  • Merry-go-round web
  • Tom Sawyer spider (for the Mark Twain character in the famous fence-painting scene)
  • Robert Frost spider, since good fences make good neighbors
  • Spider’s kiss, since the inside looks like a white chocolate Hershey’s kiss
  • Saruman spider, after the Lord of the Rings character with a large white tower
  • Flytrap fungus

If this architect organism is shown to be a new species, Troy Alexander will have final say over its name if and when he publishes his findings. Until then, these names are fantastic. Keep them coming in the comments!

Follow Carrie Arnold on Twitter and Google+.

Wildlife

Carrie is a freelance science writer living in Virginia. When she's not writing about cool critters, she's spending time outside, drinking coffee, or knitting. You can visit her website at http://www.carriearnold.com