Some time back in the Jurassic Period, I made a comment about George Burns to a colleague. I can't remember the context. Probably something about age. Not important.
Anyway, my colleague claimed that he'd never heard of Burns. Disbelieving, I attempted to jog his memory.
'He's an American comedian.'
'Oh,' he said. 'If he's an American comedian, I'm sure I've heard of him but just put it out of my memory.'
'Really? Your life must be like Groundhog Day.'
'It's an American comed … Oh, never mind.' I stopped before we entered a recursive loop.
The question raised by this potentially libelous anecdote is how did he know he'd forgotten? Surely it's impossible to distinguish between the states of knowing but forgetting and never having known. (The other question is why would anyone prefer to look like a pretentious git rather than admitting they've got no idea?)
So here's something I didn't know. I'm confessing up front.
Bagheera kiplingi is a jumping spider. George and Elizabeth Peckham described it in 1896, a couple of years after the publication of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book. Bagheera, you'll recall, is the courageous and cunning melanistic leopard that escaped from the Rajah of Oodeypore's* menagerie and is living wild. He helps raise Mowgli before the boy returns to village life.
The Peckhams named three other salticid genera after Kipling's work — Akela, Messua and Nagaina. But none of these has the cachet of Bagheera, probably because they weren't voiced by Sebastian Cabot**. I have no idea*** why they chose those three monikers and eschewed Baloo, Mowgli and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. And Shere Khan****. Awesome names all.
But it doesn't stop there with Bagheera kiplingi. This jumping spider named after a fictional black leopard is actually a vegetarian. It's known that many spiders will sup on nectar from time to time. They're liquid feeders and nectar is a liquid packed with sugars and proteins — an arachnid energy shake to supplement the bugs. What makes this species unusual is that plant food is the largest part of its diet. It feeds on the protein- and fat-rich Beltian bodies on Central American acacias. Oh, and that's the other thing about Bagheera the jumping spider. It isn't found in India.
It's a fascinating world. If only I could remember ...
** The actor not the explorer
*** Or did have an idea but forgot
**** Just wait until I get back into taxonomy