When a hairy, scary spider climbs up the water spout, count on Jeff Daniels to wipe that spider out. He did just that in the 1990 horror comedy Arachnophobia, and he’ll continue doing so in spirit as tarantobelus jeffdanielsi, a tarantula-killing worm recently discovered by scientists at the University of California, Riverside.
Tarantobelus jeffdanielsi is a type of nematode, or roundworm, of which there are more than 25,000 described species. But via Science Daily, this is only the second such nematode known to specifically infect tarantulas.
“His character in [Arachnophobia] is a spider killer, which is exactly what these nematodes are,” said parasitologist Adler Dillman, who led the team that discovered the nematode.
“When I first heard a new species of nematode had been named after me, I thought, ‘Why? Is there a resemblance?’ Daniels joked. “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.”
Dillman’s work was recently published in Journal of Parasitology. [Note: Descriptions of parasites follow, so if you are easily grossed out, this is your chance to click away.] He was alerted to the existence of jeffdanielsi by a wholesale tarantula breeder in 2019. The breeder was losing spiders to a mysterious infection, and specimens sent in for analysis had an “odd white mass” around the mouth. Dillman quickly identified the white areas as nematodes.
Infected tarantulas exhibit strange behavior: walking on tiptoe, refusing to eat, and losing the ability to move their fangs. Ultimately, they starve to death.
“Nematodes have been around for hundreds of millions of years,” Dillman said. “They’ve evolved to infect every kind of host on the planet including humans. Any animal you know of on planet Earth, there’s a nematode that can infect it.” Yikes. Now, we need Daniels to make a movie about killing nematodes.
Speaking of parasites, Daniels was recently seen facing off against President Trump in The Comey Rule. He also starred as Atticus Finch in the 2021 Broadway revival of To Kill a Mockingbird, and anchored Showtime’s 2021 drama American Rust.