Researchers have recently discovered a new species of worm that can infect tarantulas, and have named the worm Tarantobelus jeffdanielsi. Why? After actor Jeff Daniels, of course, the hero who saves a town from a spider invasion in the 1990 movie Arachnaphobia.
Described in an article published in the Journal of Parasitology, researcher Adler Dillman, who teaches parasitology at the University of California Riverside, responded to a call to examine an infected tarantula. The tarantula presented with a white mass near their mouths, which turned out to be nematodes. Infected spiders were not eating and exhibited strange behaviors, such as walking around as if on tiptoe.
Upon further study, Dillman found that this particular species of worm is hermaphroditic, which means they produce their own sperm and eggs and can self reproduce. In the laboratory, jeffdanielsi’s life span stretched 11 days and allowed one nematode to produce up to 160 offspring. Jeffdanelsi worms appear to only infect the mouth of tarantulas.
Nematodes are not an uncommon or new type of organism. In fact, according to researchers, nematodes have been around for millions of years and have been known to infect practically any living organism, and exist in great numbers. While they can live freely on their own, they live as parasites in plants and animals. Hookworms and pinworms are a type of nematode known to be parasites in humans.
“Any animal you know of on planet Earth, there’s a nematode that can infect it,” says Dillman.
Prior to this discovery, there was only one nematode species known to infect tarantula spiders. However, research of this first species exclusively studied the worms themselves, rather than studying worms infecting a tarantula.
One thing that remained unclear to Dillman about the worms was how they were able to affect the tarantula’s behavior and remove use of it’s fangs. Dillman also hopes to conduct additional studies to search for a potential way to treat infected tarantulas.