New species of tarantula named after Johnny Cash

Meet Aphonopelma johnnycashi, a new spider named after country legend Johnny Cash. Dr. Chris A. Hamilton

Calling all country music arachnophobes: you might find it hard to hate a new spider named after country legend Johnny Cash.

Aphonopelma johnnycashi is one of 14 new species of tarantulas discovered in the southwestern United States, nearly doubling the number of tarantula species in the region.

“We often hear about how new species are being discovered from remote corners of the Earth, but what is remarkable is that these spiders are in our own backyard,” said Dr. Chris Hamilton, lead author of the study that was published on the discoveries.

“With the Earth in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, it is astonishing how little we know about our planet’s biodiversity, even for charismatic groups such as tarantulas.”

Biologists from Auburn University and Milsaps College in the U.S. conducted rigorous research: they travelled across the country in mountains, deserts and yes, even backyards. In the end, the studied about 3,000 specimens.

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The researchers concluded that there are 29 species of tarantulas in the U.S., with 14 having just been discovered.  And not all tarantulas are created equal: while we may think of huge, hairy tarantulas like the ones we most often see in movies, the fact is they vary in size quite a bit.

Some can reach 15 cm, while others can be just a couple of centimetres.

A comparison of the largest and the smallest tarantula species in the United States. These are adult females of Aphonopelma anax (L) from Texas and Aphonopelma paloma (R) from Arizona. Dr. Brent Hendrixson (A. anax) and Dr. Chris A. Hamilton (A. paloma)

So why name the spider after Johnny Cash? For one, the spider was found near Folsom Prison, the subject of Cash’s famous song Folsom Prison Blues. As well, the male of the species is usually solid black — just like Cash’s legendary attire.

And for you arachonophobes, guess what? Canada is actually home to a spider species similar to a tarantula, called a tarantuloid. The Hexura picea, known as a “dwarf tarantula” can be found in British Columbia.

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