A spider named Cash: New spider species named after Johnny Cash

5 Feb 2016

Johnny Cash singing in 1987. Image via Wikimedia Commons

A newly-discovered species of spider, found near Folsom Prison in California, has been named after Johnny Cash, who put the prison on the world stage by performing there.

It seems that, even though Johnny Cash died back in 2003, ‘the man in black’ will live on as the ‘spindly creepy spider in black’ following the discovery of 14 new species of arachnid in the southern US.

According to the BBC, because of its discovery near the prison, which was not just immortalised by Cash’s appearances there, but also in the song Folsom Prison Blues, the team that discovered it felt it only right to dub it Aphonopelma johnnycashi.

Much like his legendary namesake, the spider was found ‘walking the line’ around the empty regions of California and, according to the researchers who discovered it, the decision to name it after Cash was a no-brainer.

“It’s found along the foothills of the western Sierra Nevada mountains, and one of the places that’s there is Folsom Prison,” said Dr Chris Hamilton.

“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.”

Johnny Cash spiders

Both the male and female Aphonopelma johnnycashi. Image via Dr Chris Hamilton/ZooKeys

(Ghost) spiders in the sky

The 14 newly-discovered species have now been catalogued in the journal ZooKeys and, despite the obvious attention being generated by this particular arachnid’s naming, it is actually quite significant given that the discoveries have effectively re-written the entire Aphonopelma genus.

Prior to Dr Hamilton’s research, it was believed Aphonopelma johnnycashi was one of 50 separate species, but following extensive analysis he was able to find that there was a lot of double-counting at play, which subsequently saw the number of species reduced to 29.

This left 14 of the newly re-categorised species as being completely new to science, which, Dr Hamilton says, is not unsurprising given all of the species’ similarities with one another, although the males tend to be blacker than the females.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic