The American Southwest just got a little bit terrifying. Fourteen new species of tarantula have been discovered in the region, one of which has been named after the late Johnny Cash.
The new discoveries were made by the team of Chris A. Hamilton , Brent E. Hendrixson, and Jason E. Bond in their examination of tarantula species in North America. The group began their work over ten years ago and studied over 3,000 individual specimens. Their findings allowed them to reorganize the species tree for the United States and add fourteen new species to the list.
The work was not easy. The climbed mountains, burned in the dessert, and crawled through backyards looking for the hairy arachnids that plague many people's nightmares. Since many of the species look alike, even to the trained eye, Hamilton and his mates had to employ behavioral, anatomical, genetic, and distribution data to make sure their identifications were accurate.
All told there are 29 identified species of tarantula in the United States, 14 of which are the new species discovered by Hamilton and his team. There is diversity among the new spiders on the block: The spiders range in size from six inches (including leg span) down to the size of a quarter. Some are have populations that are widespread and easily found, others so small and extremely localized that they may require protection in order to preserve the population. Co-author Brent Hendrixson told Discovery News that:
Two of the new species are confined to single mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona, one of the United States’ biodiversity hotspots...These fragile habitats are threatened by increased urbanization, recreation, and climate change. There is also some concern that these spiders will become popular in the pet trade due to their rarity, so we need to consider the impact that collectors may have on populations as well.
Why did they choose to name one of their new friends after singer Johnny Cash? The specimen was found near Folsom Prison. The prison was significant in Johnny's career. He had a chart topping song entitled Folsom Prison Blues and recorded a successful live album at the prison. Johnny was also referred to as "Man in Black" as he was often dressed in black. Since the adult male tarantula's predominant color is black, the name seemed like a natural fit. The official name of the spider is Aphonopelma johnnycashi , but since Johnny Cash was a man of the people, we common folk can just refer to it as the Johnny Cash tarantula.