It’s been a big week for the late Johnny Cash.
First, in a study published this week in Zookeys, it was revealed that a new species of tarantula has actually been named for Johnny Cash. In what is being called “the most comprehensive taxonomic tarantula study ever conducted,” a group of scientists studied more than 3,000 specimens and were able to identify 14 new species that were previously unknown to science. The spider named after Cash was one of them. Dr. Chris Hamilton, a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History, led the study.
“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.”
That backyard that Dr. Hamilton speaks of is the western region of the United States, where much of the research for this project was done. The species named for Johnny Cash, Aphonopelma johnnycashi, was discovered in California along the foothills of the western Sierra Nevada mountains. A place that Johnny Cash knows very well sits nearby.
“This species can be found near the area of Folsom Prison in California.”
Johnny Cash first recorded “Folsom Prison Blues” in 1955 and put on a series of concerts at the now-famous penitentiary in the 1960s. Cash also recorded a live album at one of those shows, At Folsom Prison, which revitalized Cash’s career. As for the spider named in Cash’s honor, it wasn’t just the location of the new species that prompted Hamilton to name the spider for Johnny Cash.
“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.”
Aphonopelma johnnycashi are typically black in color, as Dr. Hamilton refers to, and can measure up to six inches across. Their bite is venomous and would be extremely painful, but it is not considered to be dangerous. Dr. Hamilton also referred to all tarantulas in the United States as “teddy bears with eight legs” despite their sometimes treacherous appearance. Dr. Hamilton suspects that the species now named for Johnny Cash went undiscovered due to its similarity with Aphonopelma iodius.
“They look fairly similar, particularly the females. The males, because they’re more black, they’re a little bit different.
“But if you were just looking at specimens that had been collected, and they were in a jar on a shelf, they would look pretty similar.”
“Then once we looked at the genomics and looked at some of the ecological constraints, we could see this species was pretty unique and independent from the others that it’s closely related to.”
In other Johnny Cash-related news and speaking of Folsom Prison, the Current is reporting that a new 50-foot statue of Johnny Cash is in the works to be placed outside of the penitentiary to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Cash’s legendary performances inside the prison. The statue, designed by Gary Tillery, an artist at the Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany, will be called “Man in Black” and will be made entirely of steel. Flame-shaped cutouts in the Cash statue would allow the setting sun to shine through to resemble a ring of fire. “Ring of Fire” was one of Johnny Cash’s biggest hits.
— TheCurrent (@TheCurrent) February 5, 2016
Tillery is hoping to finish and dedicate the Cash statue by 2018 but says the timeline will all depend on the funding. Tillery’s Cash statue would join seven other Johnny Cash-related pieces that currently reside along a path along the Folsom Prison property line that runs for approximately 2.5 miles.
The Johnny Cash legend lives on in many different ways.
[Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]