Tarantula-Killing Parasitic Worm Named After Jeff Daniels

One of the weirdest things I did growing up was watch Arachnophobia roughly 7,000 times. Seeing any movie that much is bizarre. But what made it really strange for me was that as a kid I a) didn’t like scary movies and b) hated spiders. For whatever reason though I just found the film about deadly spiders wildly entertaining and re-watchable. Clearly I wasn’t the only one. Scientists have paid homage to the 1990 movie by naming a newly discovered parasitic worm capable of killing tarantulas after Arachnophobia star Jeff Daniels.

A parasitic worm next to an image of a scared Jeff Daniels in Arachnaphobia
Adler Dillman-UCR/Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Researchers at University of California, Riverside have dubbed a new species of nematodes “Tarantobelus jeffdanielsi.” The team discovered the microscopic worms (which we first heard about at Mashable) after a tarantula wholesale breeder lost part of his 2018 crop mysteriously wiped out. The breeder said saw a “white discharge in the oral cavities of the tarantulas.” Unsure what happened, he sent the dead tarantulas to the experts. The discharge turned out to be a large, never-before-seen group of nematodes.

The team documented their findings in a paper published at the Journal of Parasitology. And in an article at UC Riverside’s website, they noted this is only the second out of the more than 25,000 known types of this species to ever be found inside a tarantula. And woe be the spider who ends up with these body-controlling parasites in them. They’re not pleasant to look at. This dramatization from UCR is a horror movie unto itself.

A dramatic rendering of a parasitic worm attacking a tarantula
Evan Fields-UCR

But you don’t need to be a scientist to understand why they named the parasitic worm after a popular actor. It was anything but an insult. Jeff Daniels is one of the most famous spider killers in movie history. (Of course, I’ve seen Arachnophobia enough times to know that his character would have gladly handed over the job to these little tiny worms.) Daniels also took the tribute for what it was. This is what he told UC Riverside:

“When I first heard a new species of nematode had been named after me, I thought, ‘Why? Is there a resemblance?’ 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.”

That’s nice. (And really funny.) But Mr. Daniels, both horror movies and spiders scared me as a kid. Yet you got me to watch your scary spider movie countless times. As far as I’m concerned you made it a long time ago.

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