Sting of Fire: Folsom Prison Tarantula Named for Johnny Cash

Sting of Fire: Folsom Prison Tarantula Named for Johnny Cash

CashVSSpider

A new study re-categorizes all known tarantula species in the United States and reveals several new ones, including such a one named for country singer Johnny Cash.

Spider scientists across the United States have recently undertaken a massive study, which recategorizes the various known species of tarantula and adds more than a dozen new ones. One such animal, found in abundance on the outskirts of Folsom Prison in California, was furred head-to-toe in black.

"It just fit," said Chris Hamilton, the study's lead author. They named the new species Aphonopelma johnnycashi, after the legendary country singer Johnny Cash.

Cash famously recorded a live album at Folsom, along with a hit song "Folsom Prison Blues." Cash was also known for dressing entirely in black for much of his musical career, earning him the nickname "The Man in Black." Additionally, as seen in the above image, he enjoyed crouching low in the grass, waiting to strike at unsuspecting prey.

Several new species were revealed during the study. None of the animals were entirely new to the researchers, but a good spring cleaning never hurt taxonomy. Arachnologists must keep their eyes wide open all the time: spiders from different states might be mistakenly said to be of the same species. Some tarantulas, like johnnycashi, fit under the umbrella of the wrong species. So if you think two critters are of a kind, just be sure to check the line.

Only the Folsom Prison tarantula received a celebrity name; many were named for where they were discovered. A. superstitionense, for one, was not named for a Stevie Wonder song, but rather the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. Someday, Stevie. Someday.

You can see many of the "new" species in the gallery below. They're basically teddy bears!

While scientists might have fun naming animals they discover, Hamilton wants to point out that's not why they get up in the morning: "We do it because we love what we do. We really love the organisms, and we want to know what's here on Earth and what their relationships are."

Well, now my whole day is about going back through Cash's discography.

Source: ZooKeys

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"Superstitionense"? There's gotta be a story behind that one. And catalinas are many colors, but not black/orange.

Did the Johnny Cash tarantula bite a man in reno just to watch him die?

albino boo:
Did the Johnny Cash tarantula bite a man in reno just to watch him die?

You know, I wish there was an upvote system here because this comment deserves all of them. Beautiful.

You know, all these "new species" articles lately have me thinking, how do we know that these ARE a newly discovered species, and that they aren't just a sub-section of a species that we've already discovered that have significantly changed due to environmental factors in between the time they were discovered and now? I mean, short of observing it happen over generations, how do we define this stuff? It's not reproductive incompatibility, otherwise donkeys and horses would be one species. It's not physiological differences; Canus Domesticus covers a hell of a lot of different looking/functioning dogs. Is our defining of a new species entirely predicated upon not having observed the changes take place?

albino boo:
Did the Johnny Cash tarantula bite a man in reno just to watch him die?

Wish I'd thought of that for the article. Good job, good job

ccggenius12:
You know, all these "new species" articles lately have me thinking, how do we know that these ARE a newly discovered species, and that they aren't just a sub-section of a species that we've already discovered that have significantly changed due to environmental factors in between the time they were discovered and now? I mean, short of observing it happen over generations, how do we define this stuff? It's not reproductive incompatibility, otherwise donkeys and horses would be one species. It's not physiological differences; Canus Domesticus covers a hell of a lot of different looking/functioning dogs. Is our defining of a new species entirely predicated upon not having observed the changes take place?

Speciation is indeed most commonly held to be the point at which two distinct populations of otherwise similar animals are no longer reproductively viable with one other. This /includes/ cases where two species can produce /infertile/ offspring such as the case between donkeys and horses (as well as tigers and lions, and potentially humans and chimps), because the two populations can still no longer genetically commingle /as populations/. They can no longer distribute their genes through each other's groups because offspring are always infertile or inviable if they can occur at all.

You might make a mule, but if the mule is a genetic dead end, you'll never merge it's parent species back into a single population again. Thus, they are counted as separate species.

A useful term here is 'chemically interfertile'...all breeds of domestic dog are technically chemically interfertile with one another even in cases where crossbreeding would be logistically problematic or even physically impossible between actual members of two distinct breeds (say, trying to cross a Teacup Chihuahua with a Saint Bernard). But genetically, you could take gametes from such pairings and produce what should be a viable crossbreed despite the wild differences in morphology, because they haven't actually hit the point of genetic divergence where that's no longer possible. So they're just two breeds or phenotypes of the same species.

Genetics being organic chemistry, there isn't really a single 'fixed' point at which speciation happens, so it has to be determined on a case by case basis. As the article indicates, it's very easy to /miss/ speciation between two very similar animals simply because we might not think to check two distant populations against each other, and sometimes things get Odd as in the case of Ring Species (A and B can interbreed, B and C can interbreed, C and D can interbreed, as well as D to A, but not C and A or D and B, for instance).

It's a messy subject, but it isn't entirely arbitrary nor is it based solely on not having observed a change take place. Quite the opposite: it can only be determined by close and careful observation.

 

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