Do you live in America’s great Southwestern states? Are you afraid of spiders? Well then, it may be of concern to you that researchers have recently described a whopping 14 new species of tarantula. This doubles the total number of large arachnids in the region. Gaining the most attention, one has been named after the man in black himself, Johnny Cash.
The new species known as Aphonopelma johnnycashi got its name for more than just its coloring however. It was also discovered near Folsom Prison which was made infamous by Johnny Cash’s hit “Folsom Prison Blues.”
As the study’s lead author, Dr. Chris Hamilton published a statement in the journal ZooKeys saying: “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. 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.”
Over the course of a decade trekking through the sizzling deserts and icy mountains of the American Southwest looking for spiders, the team managed to collect almost 3,000 specimens. Deciding to take on the massive inventory of species residing in the area due to the disorganized and outdated U.S. list, there were a number of arachnids listed twice or even poorly described previously.
Despite the common image of the spider of our nightmares being ridiculously enormous, tarantulas can range in size a great deal. While some can reach an astounding 6 inches, there are many others measuring only about 2 inches long. You can find these arachnids in 12 states currently across the southern third of the nation and a total of 50 species have been described as North American.
Since many tarantulas in the United States look similar and are hard to decipher, researchers utilize a combination of traits. These characteristics range from appearance and behavior to genetics. With this strategy, researchers are able to recognize 29 species increasing from the 15 previously attributed to the Southwest.
The vast majority of the species range drastically. Although, a select few are quite restricted and may require protection. Co-author of the study, Brent Hendrixson explains, “Two of the new species are confined to single mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona, one of the United States’ biodiversity hotspots. These fragile habitats are threatened by increased urbanization, recreation, and climate change,” (as well as the prospective perils of the pet trade.)
Despite all of the intrigue surrounding these kings of the deep, no one has ever actually managed to...