Friday 30 September 2016

'He's just a teddy bear with eight legs' - Meet the new tarantula named after Johnny Cash

A new tarantula has been named after Johnny Cash, the singer, because of its proximity to Folsom and its black appearance

Sarah Knapton

Published 05/02/2016 | 07:39

Aphonopelma johnnycashi (Credit: Dr Chris Hamilton)
Aphonopelma johnnycashi (Credit: Dr Chris Hamilton)
Johnny Cash in 1977

Inmates at Folsom Prison may be singing the blues a little louder when they hear what is crawling outside the penitentiary walls.

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A new tarantula has been found, and the creature has been named after Johnny Cash, the singer, because of its proximity to Folsom and its striking black appearance.

Johnny Cash in 1977
Johnny Cash in 1977

Aphonopelma johnnycashi is one of 14 new species discovered in the southwestern United States by biologists at Auburn University and Millsaps College following a 10 year hunt.

Cash wrote the hit Folsom Prison Blues after watching the film Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison while serving in Germany in the US Air Force. He later recorded a live version at the jail which reached number one in the US country charts in 1968.

“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.

“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.”

Tarantulas within the genus Aphonopelma are of particular interest for scientists because there are extreme size differences between the species. Some reach six inches in leg span while others can fit on the face of 20p piece.

Although tarantulas have gained notoriety for their imposing appearance and perceived threat to humans, Dr Hamilton said fear is largely unfounded and the new species rarely bite,

They are just ‘teddy bears with eight legs,’ he added.

Within the United States, Aphonopelma are found in twelve states across the southern third of the country, ranging west of the Mississippi River to California.

They are mostly seen in warmer months when the adults males abandon their burrows in search of mates.

To gain a better understanding of the diversity and distributions of these spiders, the research team spent more than a decade searching for tarantulas throughout scorching deserts, frigid mountains, and other locations in the American Southwest, sometimes literally in someone's backyard.

They studied nearly 3,000 specimens, undertaking the most comprehensive taxonomic study ever performed on a group of tarantulas.

Their results indicate there are 29 species in the United States, 14 of which are new to science but many are threatened by changing landscapes.

“These fragile habitats are threatened by increased urbanisation, recreation, and climate change,” said Brent Hendrixson, a co­author of the study.

“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.”

The new findings were reported in the journal ZooKeys.

Telegraph.co.uk

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