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Tarantula Species Named After Johnny Cash

This is an adult male of Aphonopelma johnnycashi from California. (Dr. Chris A. Hamilton)

Celebrities often have streets or buildings named after them, but famed singer-songwriter Johnny Cash has a tarantula named after him.

The spider, Aphonopelma johnnycashi, was one of 14 new spiders discovered in the southwestern United States, doubling the known number in the region.

The Johnny Cash spider got the name because “the species is found in California near Folsom Prison,” about which Cash penned a famous song. Also, the spider is generally solid black, and Cash was known as “The Man in Black” because of his style of dress.

The new spiders were described by biologists at Auburn University and Millsaps College in the journal ZooKeys.

"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 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 belong to the genus Aphonopelma, which researchers say is found in 12 states in the southern third of the U.S. The hairy spiders can grow to be up to 15 centimeters or more in leg span. Others are small, less than 2 centimeters across.

The discovery of the new spiders marked the culmination of more than a decade of research that was called “the most comprehensive taxonomic study ever performed on a group of tarantulas.”

Researchers say the additional 14 bring the total number of tarantula species in the U.S. to 29.

Tarantulas are often hard to distinguish from one another because they are often similar looking.

The large hairy spiders are often portrayed as dangerous, but the researchers say that is “unfounded,” as “they do not readily bite.” They likened them to “teddy bears with eight legs.”