Aphonopelma johnnycashi: Newfound Tarantula Species Named after Johnny Cash
Feb 5, 2016 by Enrico de Lazaro
A team of researchers, directed by Dr. Chris Hamilton of the Auburn University Museum of Natural History, has discovered a previously unknown species of tarantula that lives in the plains and foothills of the western Sierra Nevada Mountains, the United States, and named it after the famed American singer-songwriter, guitarist, actor, and author Johnny Cash.
The newly-discovered species, Aphonopelma johnnycashi, has a distribution running along the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California and can be found inhabiting the following regions: Sierra Nevada, Central California Foothills and Coastal Mountains, and Central California Valley.
“The specific epithet, johnnycashi, is in honor of the country music legend, Johnny Cash,” Dr. Hamilton and co-authors explained in a paper in the journal ZooKeys.
“This species can be found near the area of Folsom Prison in California (famous for Cash’s song ‘Folsom Prison Blues’), and like Cash’s distinctive style of dress, where he was referred to as ‘the man in black’, mature males of this species are generally black in color.”
The breeding season of Aphonopelma johnnycashi, when mature males abandon their burrows in search of females, occurs during the fall (generally September-November).
“More than 50 different species of tarantulas had been previously reported from the United States, but that many of them were poorly defined and actually belonged to the same species,” Dr. Hamilton said.
To gain a better understanding of the diversity and distributions of these spiders, he and his colleagues spent more than a decade searching for tarantulas throughout scorching deserts, frigid mountains, and other locations in the American Southwest.
The team studied nearly 3,000 specimens, undertaking the most comprehensive taxonomic study ever performed on a group of tarantulas.
Because most species of tarantula in the United States are very similar in appearance and cannot be distinguished from each other using anatomical features alone, the researchers implemented a modern approach to taxonomy by employing anatomical, behavioral, distributional, and genetic data.
Their results indicate there are 29 species in the United States, among which Aphonopelma johnnycashi and 13 other species are new to science.