There’s A Tarantula Species Found Near Folsom Prison Named After Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash country music
Don Hunstein/ Johnny Cash Archives

Johnny Cash… singer, songwriter, country music legend… namesake of a tarantula species?

Of all the great albums the Man In Black released, his Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison album, which contained his biggest jail themed hits “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Cocaine Blues,” and “25 Minutes To Go” is one of the biggest and most iconic of his long and decorated career.

These performances projected Johnny into international superstar status and built the platform he used to promote social issues most dear to him (namely prison reform and Native American rights). One of his numerous prison performances also inspired a young Merle Haggard (locked up in San Quentin at the time) to change his ways and pursue a music career for himself.

It’s impossible to quantify the enormous impact Johnny Cash had on American culture, however, it’s clear that his legacy lived on well beyond his years.

But I would have never guessed that scientists, specifically arachnologists, would be inspired by the Man In Black.

Back in 2016, a group of researchers from Auburn University and Millsaps College in Mississippi published a study of 3,000 tarantulas from across the American Southwest, documenting everything from their physical characteristics to their DNA structure, to categorize them in a more detailed way then ever before.

It turned out, despite the general population being very familiar with tarantulas from movies, the scientific community didn’t truly have a ton of data on the various species and subsects of the spider.

The data collected was then compared with an existing database held by the Auburn University Museum of Natural History. From this data collection and analysis, it was determined that 14 new Tarantula species would be required.

And one of those new species had quite a large population right near, you guessed it, Folsom State Prison. The spider also had a very dark coloration reminiscent of the the all-black attire worn by Cash, and since lead researcher Chris Hamilton himself is a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, the name just fit.

So on February 4th, 2016, the new Johnny Cash tarantula was born.

Aphonopelma johnnycashi was officially adopted as the name for that species of tarantula, and while I won’t be running out to California to get an up close look at one, it makes me happy that the legacy of Johnny Cash is still alive and well, even in the scientific world.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock