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Scientists from the University of California have named a newly discovered tarantula-killing worm after actor Jeff Daniels.
The worm – now dubbed as “Tarantobelus jeffdanielsi” – is inspired by the 66-year-old character Dr Ross Jennings in the 1990 film Arachnophobia.
The movie follows the story of Dr Ross and exterminator Delbert McClintock (John Goodman), who fight to stop a deadly infestation of spiders in rural California after witnessing a series of unexplainable deaths of the locals.
“When I first heard a new species of nematode had been named after me, I thought, ‘Why? Is there a resemblance?’” Daniels told UC Riverside.
“Honestly, I was honoured by their homage to me and Arachnophobia,” he said. “[It] made me smile. And of course, in Hollywood, you haven’t really made it until you’ve been recognised by those in the field of parasitology.”
Professor Adler Dillman, who is a parasitologist, said that he was contacted by a tarantula breeder in September 2019 after noticing that some spiders were suffering from a mysterious infection.
Dillman’s team figured that Tarantobelus jeffdanielsi were attacking a spider’s mouth area, causing the spiders to exhibit strange behaviours like walking around on tiptoes and not eating.
When infected, the appendages that control the tarantula’s fangs also stopped working, which primarily contributed to its death due to starvation.
The professor is planning additional studies to understand these nematodes, as well as how breeders can treat or even prevent jeffdanielsi infections.
“Nematodes have been around for hundreds of millions of years. They’ve evolved to infect every kind of host on the planet including humans,” Dillman said. “Any animal you know of on planet Earth, there’s a nematode that can infect it.”