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folsom prison

Legendary country singer Johnny Cash has been given a unique honor – a new species of an almost all-black tarantula that lives near Folsom Prison, California, has been named after him.

Johnny Cash wrote a song about the prison, and also played a historic series of concerts for inmates there in the 1960s.

Aphonopelma johnnycashi is among 14 new tarantula species from the southern US which have been described by biologists in the journal ZooKeys.

Their study completely rewrites the family tree of the Aphonopelma genus.

One of dozens of tarantula genera, this group was previously considered to include more than 50 separate species.

As part of his PhD research at Auburn University in Alabama, Chris Hamilton carefully whittled that down to 29. He eliminated a lot of double-counting, but also defined 14 species that were entirely new to science.

“We really tried to clean the taxonomy up,” said Dr. Chris Hamilton, now a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History.Black tarantula Johnny Cash

“The only way we could do that was by looking at over 3,000 specimens, both from the wild and from natural history collections.

“A lot of previous names got eliminated. But there were 14 that were genuinely unique and new.”

Aphonopelma johnnycashi, however, was found roaming the wilds of California.

“It’s found along the foothills of the western Sierra Nevada mountains, and one of the places that’s there is Folsom Prison,” Dr. Chris Hamilton explained – and it wasn’t a giant imaginative leap from there to the species’ new moniker.

“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.”

Dr. Chris Hamilton thinks that one reason the species had not been previously recognized is its similarity to other species of tarantula, such as Aphonopelma iodius which is common in the Mojave desert further south.