Scientists Name Newly Discovered Tarantula-Killing Worm After Jeff Daniels

Scientists at the University of California, Riverside discovered a new species of worm that kills tarantulas, so they named it after actor Jeff Daniels.

Jeff Daniels attends Tony Awards press junket.

Jeff Daniels attends the 2016 Tony Awards Meet The Nominees Press Junket.

Jeff Daniels attends Tony Awards press junket.

Scientists at the University of California, Riverside recently discovered a rare species of worm that kills tarantulas, and naturally, named it after actor Jeff Daniels, Variety reports. 

The inspiration behind the “Tarantobelus jeffdanielsi” is Daniels’ character Dr. Ross Jennings in the 1990 film Arachnophobia about a town overrun by a new species of spiders. Even though he had arachnophobia, Dr. Jennings overcomes his fear and destroys the queen spider, along with one of its egg sacs, thereby, saving the day. Sorry, spoiler alert, for this more than three-decade-old movie. 

“When I first heard a new species of nematode had been named after me, I thought, ‘Why? Is there a resemblance?,’” Daniels jokingly responded, per UC Riverside. “Honestly, I was honored by their homage to me and Arachnophobia. Made me smile. And of course, in Hollywood, you haven’t really made it until you’ve been recognized by those in the field of parasitology.” 

Adler Dillman, parasitologist and associate professor at UC Riverside, said a tarantula breeder contacted him in September 2019 after noticing some were suffering from a mysterious infection. When infected, these tarantulas exhibited bizarre behavior, such as walking around on tiptoe and displaying a lack of an appetite. Dillman observed a white mass around the spider’s mouth, and tied it back to nematodes, a species of worms of which there are more than 25,000. 

Dillman’s team learned that the tarantobelus jeffdanielsi only inhabits around the mouth area of the tarantula, and when infected, the spider will lose control of the appendages that control its fangs, which primarily contributes to its death since it ends up dying of starvation. 

Dillman and his team plans on studying how the tarantobelus jeffdanielsi affects the tarantula’s behavioral patterns, while also figuring out how to prevent or treat future infections.

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