New tarantula near Folsom Prison named for Johnny Cash

johnny-cash-tarantula.jpgAphonopelma johnnycashi

When researchers identified a new species of tarantula in the Sierra foothills near the state prison in Folsom, they knew just how to capitalize for some media attention. They named it for the late Johnny Cash, who had a hit song in the 1950s called "Folsom Prison Blues," and who famously performed for inmates at Folsom in 1968. Cash, of course, was also known in part for dressing in all black. Since the new tarantula is characterized by a mostly black body, the scientists had their hook.

Behold a new species Aphonopelma johnnycashi, native to the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

The study identifying 14 new species of tarantula is published in ZooKeys, which bills itself as a peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal. The overall thrust of the study results is to reduce the number of recognized tarantula species in the United States and clarify which of the hairy spiders belongs to what group. For instance, the researchers recommend de-recognizing a previously known species for which there was only one example, a spider collected in Manhattan Beach in 1937.

The lead author of the study, Chris Hamilton, is a post-doctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History. He may be better suited than most biologists to get media attention for his discoveries. He is a former photojournalist for the Dallas Morning News and a freelancer for magazines. He learned how to sell a story.

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