Scientists looking to clean up the tarantula genus (aphonopelma) have essentially rewritten the family tree of the taxonomy and even went so far as to name a new species after the iconic black-clad outlaw Johnny Cash.
Johnny Cash just makes sense for new tarantula species
The discovery of new species often sees people thinking that it must have been found in some newly explored part of the Amazon that until recently was not terrifically accessible. While there is some merit to that thinking, as you would think any new species would have been identified by now, 14 new species of tarantula have been found in the southern United States. One of those, a bit of of an outlaw according to the paper recently published in the journal ZooKeys, was found near Folsom Prison (where Johnny Cash played a series of famous concerts for inmates) and the male of the species, like Johnny Cash, was nearly all black not unlike the country singer’s wardrobe.
Aphonopelma johnnycash is one of 14 new tarantula species identified in the recently published research. These 14 all belong to the same genera of tarantula that was believed to to be made up of over 50 separate species. However, by studying nearly 3,000 specimen from natural history collections and found in the wild, Dr. Chris Hamilton, a researcher from Auburn University in Alabama finally narrowed the 50 or so down to 29 including the own named for “The Man in Black.”
“We really tried to clean the taxonomy up,” said Dr Hamilton, who is now doing post doctoral research at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
“The only way we could do that was by looking at over 3,000 specimens, both from the wild and from natural history collections.
“A lot of previous names got eliminated. But there were 14 that were genuinely unique and new.”
“The majority of species, described or undescribed, have probably already been collected,” Dr. Hamilton recently told the BBC. “They’re sitting on shelves waiting to be discovered.”
Clearly Dr. Hamilton is a fan of Johnny Cash
In addition to sporting a Johnny Cash tattoo to show the world that he’s a fan, Dr. Hamilton is a big fan of the harmless tarantula. It could certainly be argued that the “creepy crawly” has been given a bad rap (perhaps since that Brady Bunch episode where Peter removed an idol from a Hawaiian burial mound to make a necklace only to be visited by a tarantula in the boys’ hotel room later that night) as they are completely harmless to humans and in Dr. Hamilton’s words are simply “teddy bears with eight legs.”
And that is a concern to his colleague that worries that if more people were made aware of their harmless nature that they might become even more popular as pets.
“Two of the new species are confined to single mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona, one of the United States’ biodiversity hotspots,” co-author Brent Hendrixson of Millsaps College said in a statement. “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.”
If nothing else, a tarantula named after Johnny Cash should surely never by kept in captivity.