New tarantula species named after country music legend

The Johnny Cash spider (Aphonopelma johnnycashi) are described as "teddy bears with eight legs". Photo / AFP
The Johnny Cash spider (Aphonopelma johnnycashi) are described as "teddy bears with eight legs". Photo / AFP

It is big, hairy, and if one sinks its fangs in you it will burn, burn, burn like a ring of fire.

Scientists have named a new species of tarantula after country music legend Johnny Cash.

Aphonopelma johnnycashi was discovered in California near Folsom Prison - which the musician made famous in his song Folsom Prison Blues, recorded in 1955.

The colouring of the spider, which measures up to 15cm across, also brings to mind the "man in black", who favoured dark outfits. Mature male tarantulas have solid black bodies.

It was one of 14 new tarantula species found in the US, all members of the Aphonopelma family.

Dr Chris Hamilton, from the Florida Museum of Natural History, who named the spider, said: "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."

The team spent more than a decade searching for tarantulas in locations ranging from scorching deserts to frigid mountains in the American southwest.

In total the scientists looked at nearly 3000 specimens - the most comprehensive taxonomic tarantula study ever conducted.

Their findings, published in the journal ZooKeys, revealed 29 US tarantula species, 14 of which were new to science.

The spiders ranged in size with some being no bigger than a small coin and others, like A. johnnycashi, having leg spans of 15cm or more.

Their bite, though venomous and painful, is not considered dangerous.

Dr Hamilton stressed that despite their fearsome appearance, US tarantulas were harmless. He described the creatures as "teddy bears with eight legs".

-AAP

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