In news that would probably make Buzz McCallister happy, scientists discovered 14 new species of tarantula in the US, publishing their findings Thursday in ZooKeys. “For such a popular organism in our culture, whether it’s Hollywood movies or B movies, there’s not really much work that’s been done on tarantulas,” study leader Chris Hamilton tells National Geographic. “Past arachnologists would get really frustrated and give up.” He and two other scientists spent more than a decade learning everything they could about Aphonopelma, a genus of harmless North American tarantula. Prior to the team's work, scientists believed there were 55 species of Aphonopelma. But Hamilton and crew found there's actually only 29 distinct species, though nearly half of those had never been discovered before.
To come to that conclusion, the team studied more than 3,000 tarantulas, most of them captured in the wild. An all-black specimen—fittingly named Aphonopelma johnnycashi—was found near Folsom Prison in California. Others were found near nuclear test sites in Nevada or on Arizona mountains completely surrounded by deserts. Discovery News reports the tarantulas ranged in size from 6 inches across to the size of a quarter. The team also launched So You Found a Tarantula! in 2000. People could use the website to send specimens to the team. One spider-loving woman in Los Angeles collected more than 20 tarantulas herself. Some of the newly discovered species are so rare they could use instant conservation efforts. Maybe it would help if people started seeing them like Hamilton does: "teddy bears with eight legs." (Read more discoveries stories.)