Real-life Spider-Man: New tarantula species named after Eagle Scout caver Bill Steele

Bill Steele (left) and Hemirrhagus billsteelei, the spider named in his honor.

Eagle Scout Bill Steele, a world-renowned speleologist, spends a lot of his time inside caves in Mexico.

Hemirrhagus billsteelei, a newly discovered species of spider, spends all of its time there.

Bill Steele and billsteelei? That’s no coincidence.

Scientists named the new spider species after Steele in honor of his contribution to the collection of cave-dwelling tarantulas in Mexico. Without Steele, some of these spiders might never have been found.

“I am proud to have my name used as a species name,” Steele tells me. “That’s something that will last for all time.”

The entrance to Cueva de la Grieta in Oaxaca, Mexico, where the new tarantula species was discovered.

Meet Bill Steele

In addition to his groundbreaking work in speleology, Distinguished Eagle Scout Bill Steele was a lifelong professional in the Boy Scouts of America.

He retired in 2014 after a 34-year career with the BSA. His last role was as national director for alumni relations and the National Eagle Scout Association.

He went back underground after retirement, but not to disappear. His expeditions — including some to places no human has ever been — have resulted in books, research journals and coverage on TV shows like National Geographic Explorer.

Meet Hemirrhagus billsteelei

A female Hemirrhagus billsteelei (left) and a male Hemirrhagus billsteelei.

The spider can grow to be 6 to 8 inches long and bears the scientific name Hemirrhagus billsteelei.

Hemirrhagus is a genus of spiders found in Mexico.

Billsteelei, according to this research paper on the subject, honors Steele “for his contribution to the knowledge of Mexican caves and his help in the collection of cave tarantulas and other arachnids in the Huautla Cave System.”

Steele leads Proyecto Espeleológico Sistema Huautla, or PESH, an annual underground expedition into the deepest cave system in the Western Hemisphere.

As part of those trips, Steele regularly invites Mexican cave scientists to join his team. It’s through Steele that these scientists are able to make the journey into the depths of the Earth. Once there, they discover species you won’t find anywhere else on the planet.

Finding billsteelei

Scientist Jorge Mendoza collected the previously unknown spider after a tip from Steele.

“We showed his team the cave it was in and rigged it with ropes,” Steele says. “He thought it was probably an unknown species because it’s in a cave in a remote place — isolated from other cave areas.”

After thoroughly examining the spider — a job I’ll pass on, thank you very much — Mendoza confirmed the spider was indeed a new species.

He captured a male and a female and took them back to the lab for further investigation. The cave-dwelling spider was one of five new Hemirrhagus species Mendoza and his team collected.