Johnny Cash Tarantula
On February 4, 2016, our little understanding of North American tarantulas changed when an analysis of the Aphonopelma genus, was published.
Previously, it was believed the Aphonopelma genus contained 55 species in areas around the southwest U.S.; however, after almost a decade of research, 20 field expeditions, and the study of more than 3,000 specimens, Dr. Chris Hamilton and his team determined there were simply 15 species. They also discovered 14 species which had been unknown to scientists, bringing the total number of Aphonopelma species to 29.
One of those new species was given a little more fame than the others. Aphonopelma johnnycashi, pictured above, is now commonly known as the Johnny Cash tarantula. The name is derived from the location the tarantula was discovered: near Folsom State Prison in California. In case you missed the connection, Johnny Cash wrote a song titled Folsom Prison Blues. He also had an interest in performing at prisons and his live album, At Folsom Prison, was recorded at the location. Known as “the man in black” for his distinctive style, as well as the song, Man in Black, also lends inspiration to the tarantula’s name; mature males are solid black in colouration.
Chris Hamilton’s research on the tarantulas was part of his PhD research, and is currently a a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History. He describes tarantulas as being, “teddy bears with eight legs” (shudder), since they are easy going and only tend to bite when they feel threatened. Interestingly enough, Hamilton has a Johnny Cash tattoo!
Dr. Chris A. Hamilton
Of course, Johnny Cash isn’t the first rockstar with a tarantula tribute. In 2005, Bumba lennoni was discovered in Brazil. The study leader, Fernando Pérez-Miles, was a fan of the Beatles and wanted to dedicate a species to Lennon because the musician helped “to make this world a gentler place”, according to the study. Below is a picture of that little beast:
I’ll end with a picture that is less likely to lead to nightmares: