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A newly discovered species of tarantula-The killer nematode worm has been named after actor Jeff Daniels, who starred in the 1990s movie ‘Arachnophobia.’

“His character in the movie is a spider killer, which is exactly what these nematodes are,” said parasitologist Adler Dillman, who led the team that discovered the worm.

While Mr. Daniels’ Dr. Jennings in the comedy-horror flick dispatches his eight-legged foes with electricity, fire, and guns, his new namesake infects the mouths of spiders.

Tarantobelus jeffdanielsi paralyzes the organs that move the tarantula’s fangs and influences their behavior, preventing them from eating and eventually starving.

It’s not clear how long T. jeffdanielsi can live in a spider, but in the lab they survived for 11 days. The worms are self-fertilizing hermaphrodites, each making 160 babies.

A newly discovered species of tarantula-killing nematode worm (pictured) has been named after actor Jeff Daniels, who starred in the 1990s film ‘Arachnophobia.’ “His character in the movie is a spider killer, which is exactly what these nematodes are,” said parasitologist Adler Dillman, who led the team that discovered the worm.

While Mr. Daniels' character in the comedy-horror film (pictured) dispatches his eight-legged foes with electricity, fire, and guns, his new namesake infects the mouths of spiders.  From here, Tarantobelus jeffdanielsi paralyzes the organs that move the tarantula's fangs and influences their behavior, preventing them from eating so they starve.

While Mr. Daniels’ character in the comedy-horror film (pictured) dispatches his eight-legged foes with electricity, fire, and guns, his new namesake infects the mouths of spiders. From here, Tarantobelus jeffdanielsi paralyzes the organs that move the tarantula’s fangs and influences their behavior, preventing them from eating so they starve.

“When I first heard that a new species of nematode had been named after me, I thought, ‘Why? Is there any resemblance?’”, joked Mr. Daniels, in statements to the UCR.

‘Honestly, I was humbled by your tribute to me and to Arachnophobia. It made me smile,” added the actor.

“And of course, in Hollywood, you haven’t really succeeded until you’ve been recognized by those in the field of parasitology,” he joked.

While nematodes are among the most abundant animals on Earth, represented by a whopping 25,000 different species, this is only the second time a species has been found to infect tarantulas.

T. jeffdanielsi was discovered after a wholesale tarantula breeder contacted Professor Dillman in September 2019, seeking help identifying a mysterious infection that was affecting some of his spiders.

When tarantulas are infected by T. jeffdanielsi, they exhibit strange behaviors, the researchers explained, such as tiptoeing and not eating, while their pedipalps, the appendages that control their fangs, also stop working.

‘If they get this infection, [tarantulas] will starve,’ Professor Dillman said.

However, the parasitologist at the University of California, Riverside noted that this “can take months, because tarantulas don’t have to eat very often.”

Upon inspecting some of the infected specimens, the expert noted that each had an unusual but distinctive white mass present around the mouth, one that he immediately recognized as being made up of nematode worms.

Further analysis revealed that the parasites were exclusively infecting the spider’s mouth, with none found in the tarantulas’ stomachs, and there was also no sign that the worms had damaged the arachnids’ exteriors.

“It is not clear that the nematodes feed on the spider itself. It is possible that they feed on bacteria that live on tarantulas,” Professor Dillman said.

This second hypothesis is bolstered, the researchers explained, by the fact that when they grew the worms in the lab, they found that they ate E. coli.

Upon inspecting some of the infected specimens, Professor Dillman noticed that each had an unusual but distinctive white mass present around the mouth (as shown in the picture), one that he immediately recognized as being made up of nematode worms.

Upon inspecting some of the infected specimens, Professor Dillman noticed that each had an unusual but distinctive white mass present around the mouth (as shown in the picture), one that he immediately recognized as being made up of nematode worms.

According to Professor Dillman, the fact that this is only the second tarantula-infecting nematode ever discovered is probably due more to the limited number of people studying spiders than to the uniqueness of the parasites.

Nematodes have been around for hundreds of millions of years. They have evolved to infect all kinds of hosts on the planet, including humans,” he said.

‘Any animal you meet on planet Earth, there is a nematode that can infect it.’

With their initial study complete, the team now seeks to understand how the worms alter the tarantula’s behavior and paralyze its pedipalps, as well as develop ways breeders could treat or prevent T. jeffdanielsi infections.

The full results of the study were published in the Journal of Parasitology.

WHAT ARE NEMATODES?

Nematodes are a type of microscopic worm, and there are more than 25,000 known species of them.

Thousands of individual nematodes can be found in a handful of garden soil.

Some species can contain more than 27 million eggs at a time and lay more than 200,000 in a single day.

Its body is long and narrow, similar to a small thread, and this is the origin of the name of the group.

The word ‘nematode’ comes from a Greek word ‘nema’ which means ‘thread’.

The epidermis (skin) of a nematode is not composed of cells like other animals, but is instead a mass of cellular material and nuclei without separate membranes.

This epidermis secretes a thick outer cuticle that is both tough and flexible.

The cuticle is the closest thing a nematode has to a skeleton, and is used as a fulcrum and lever for movement.

Long muscles are located under the cuticle. All of these muscles are longitudinally aligned along the inside of the body, so the nematode can only bend its body from side to side, not crawl or stand up, so the nematode appears to be swimming freely and thrashing aimlessly .

Source: University of California Museum of Paleontology


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