The once an arachnophobe biologist, Chris Hamilton, and his team discovered 14 new species after the evaluation of 55 nominal species in the United States. They reached the conclusion that 40 other previous listed as tarantula species were in fact, individuals ones.
29 species were recognized by the researchers and proposed 33 new synonymies. The species were delimited by the analyze of five major arachnis lineage: a monotypic group confined to California, a western and an eastern group, other primarily distributed in high-elevation areas and a group that comprises several miniaturized species, according to the study published in ZooKeys.
The team and particularly the Johnny Cash fan, Hamilton, got of course the privilege to name the new species. One found in the foothills around Folsom State Prison, a male all black, particularly got Hamilton’s attention. The team named the new specie Aphonopelma johnnycashi, after Hamilton’s idol, nicknamed “Man in Black” and a recorder of a best-selling live record at prison.
Hamilton was once afraid of the spiders and decided to confront his fear and get a pet tarantula. As a matter of fact, he said that it worked much better than expected and fell in love with the animals. Now he has handled thousands of them and has never once been bit.
As the biologist’s love for the animals grew, he tried to find out as much as he could about the arachnids and found not that much information. The information gathered about the animals had been described on the basis of only one or two specimens.
In consequence, Hamilton decided to rewrite the natural and evolutionary history of American tarantulas among his colleagues, Brent Hendrixson and Jason Bond, and made some groundbreaking discoveries in the field.
The main reason as why there were not much information about the arachnides before is because, according to British tarantula researcher Andrew Smith, many of the animals do not have a lot of distinguishing characteristics, even to experts, she said. “There are a very difficult specie to tell apart.”
The researchers worked on the study on and off for over the past 10 years, during which time they, among some volunteers, turned up 1,800 new specimens, most of which now are at Auburn University, where Hamilton works.