You May Be Cool, But Are You “Have a Tarantula Species Named After You” Cool Like Johnny Cash?

Tarantula photo via Chris Hamilton

A new tarantula species named Aphonopelma johnnycashi has just been christened after The Man in Black.

PhD researcher Chris Hamilton working for the Auburn University in Alabama successfully identified a new species of tarantula in California, and decided to name it after his favorite country music star. Aphonopelma johnnycashi is a tarantula strain the had not been properly identified previously by scientists, and was one of thirteen new tarantula species designated by the new study. And since this particular tarantula trolls the area around Folsom Prison in California where Johnny Cash played some of his most legendary performances, and is most easily identified by its all black color, the Man in Black seemed the perfect fit for the new arachnid’s namesake.

“It’s found along the foothills of the western Sierra Nevada mountains, and one of the places that’s there is Folsom Prison,” Dr. Hamilton says about Aphonopelma johnnycashi to the BBC. “It’s a perfect name. It fits the spider – it’s found around Folsom and the males are predominantly all black, so it fits his image. I have a Johnny Cash tattoo so I was very happy that it worked out that way.”

Identifying Aphonopelma johnnycashi wasn’t a case of finding a brand new species never seen before by man, but an attempt “to clean the taxonomy up” of previously-identified tarantula species. Some of the specific species were redundant, and others were not properly identified. “A lot of people think of new species as coming from areas of the Earth that not many humans have been to before… but that’s really frankly not the case,” says Chris Hamilton, who now works for the Florida Museum of Natural History. “The majority of species, described or undescribed, have probably already been collected. They’re sitting on shelves waiting to be discovered.”

Johnny Cash isn’t the only country legend to have a species named after him. Japewiella dollypartoniana is a type of recently discovered lichen most prevalent in the Appalachian Mountains, and was named after Dolly Parton in 2015. And though not a new species, the Ft. Worth Zoo named a pair of newborn giraffes “Willie” and “Waylon” last year after the closely-associated country music stars.

Johnny Cash’s signature song is “Folsom Prison Blues” released originally in 1955, and his album At Folsom Prison released in 1968 is given credit for helping revitalize Johnny Cash’s career. And now Johnny Cash’s legacy will be creeping around the Folsom, CA area for years to come.