‘Why? Is there a resemblance?’ Tarantula-killing worm named for actor Jeff Daniels

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The Tarantobelus jeffdanielsi parasite kills tarantulas, just like Daniels did in the 1990 cult classic Arachnophobia

It was a career honor Jeff Daniels probably didn’t think he was going to be bestowed with. The famed actor, musician, and producer on Wednesday etched his way into history by inspiring the name of a very special newly discovered species of worm.

The parasite – now dubbed Tarantobelus jeffdanielsi – kills tarantulas, just like Daniels did in the 1990 cult classic Arachnophobia. (Note: for all those concerned – unlike his newly discovered namesake – Daniels did not actually kill any spiders. Allegedly no arachnids were harmed on set).

Being named after a self-fertilizing hermaphroditic worm that lives for about 11 days in a lab is a “distinction no other entertainer can claim”, a news release out of University of California, Riverside trumpeting the achievement said.

Tarantobelus jeffdanielsi is just one of more than 25,000 species of nematodes – also known as a roundworm – that have been discovered and named. The plentiful parasites, considered to be “among the most abundant animals on Earth”, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, can be found on plants, in beer malts, and even deep within the Earth’s crust. The Tarantobelus jeffdanielsi is the only one that takes down tarantulas.

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The worms inhabit the spiders’ mouths and impact their behavior in strange ways, including causing them to walk on their tiptoes. They also impact and inhibit the spider’s use of its fangs. “His character in the film is a spider killer, which is exactly what these nematodes are,” said UC Riverside parasitologist Adler Dillman of Daniels. Dillman, who led the team that discovered the Jeffdanielsi, was initially tipped off when he received a call from a wholesale tarantula breeder losing his spiders to a strange illness in 2019.

Daniels has expressed appreciation for the honor. “When I first heard a new species of nematode had been named after me, I thought, ‘Why? Is there a resemblance?’ he said in response to UCR. He added that the name made him smile, “And of course, in Hollywood, you haven’t really made it until you’ve been recognized by those in the field of parasitology.”

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