The Nerd Side Of Life

Spider-Killing Nematode Named After Jeff Daniels in “Arachnophobia”

Sometimes naming things is hard. If you need proof, just look around in your own life and think of all the people you know who gave their kids or pets absolutely terrible names. And don’t pretend like you don’t know anyone who’s done that, we all do; yes I’m referring to you Steve. That’s right, I know you’re reading this and we both know giving your kid the first name of Duran, and the middle name of Duran, was an awful idea. [Editor’s Note: I dunno, that sounds pretty awesome, honestly.]

Anyway, some scientists named a nematode after actor Jeff Daniels.

So your first question is probably “What’s a nematode? Isn’t that the thing from that episode of ‘Doug‘ that he had to try and bag?”

Doug Bags A Neematoad – Nickelodeon/Paramount
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Well, you’d be right in the sense that the creature was indeed called a ‘neematoad,’ but that’s a fictional animated creature. An actual nematode is this:

Otherwise known as a roundworm, nematodes are found virtually everywhere, in every climate, with some of them being parasites that live off of other organisms. They can infect animals, plants, humans; basically anything they want. As with many parasitic infections, that can cause a great deal of issues with the host ranging from breathing impairment, cognitive decline, skin infections, and numerous other complications.

There’s also one that specifically kills spiders, and that’s where Jeff Daniels comes into the picture.

In 1990, Daniels starred in the film “Arachnophobia” directed by Frank Marshall. The film was an interesting mix of comedy and horror that absolutely will trigger your fear of spiders. And if you don’t already have that fear, you may leave the movie with one. It basically tells the tale of some scientists who accidentally bring a rare and incredibly venomous spider from Venezuela to America. Once in the states, the spider escapes to a barn in a small Californian town and crossbreeds with a house spider, creating a bunch of hybrids that are all just as poisonous as the Venezuelan parent.

Not to give away too much of the plot to a 32-year old film that you should definitely watch, but Jeff Daniels plays a doctor who has to try and figure out what is killing patients in this town (it’s the spiders by the way) and then find a way to put an end to the menace. Spider killing ensues. Speaking of killing spiders, guess what this particular nematode does? If your answer was “kill spiders” then congratulations- you accurately predicted the outcome of an article.

Parasitologist Adler Dilman led the team that discovered the nematode after a tarantula breeder noticed a number of his spiders were acting oddly and dying in unexplained fashion. They were walking oddly on the tips of their legs, not eating, and not moving their fangs. They also had a white mass around their mouths. The mass turned out to be nematodes. The resulting name given to them? Tarantobelus jeffdanielsi.

Also, this is a huge tangent, but this might be my only chance to talk about this and have it be even relatively germane, so follow me on this one. “Arachnophobia” is a great movie, but it has one of the most absurd end credits songs ever. It’s called “Don’t Bug Me,” it’s by Jimmy Buffet, and has some of the most amazing forced rhymes ever. It’s also written from the point of view of a spider from the movie. It features lines like, “Don’t bug me/Don’t mug me” and “Don’t squish me/Or death wish me.” Which somehow implies that we mug spiders, or that spiders don’t want us to mug them? And yes, the song is directly written from the spider’s perspective because of the lines, “Let me twirl/In my world/Out in the wild unknown.” “Take me to the jungle, take me to the town” and even mentioning, “Eight legs and one pea brain.”

This song has been embedded in my memory for 30 something years okay? So if I’ve had to live with that, so do you. Maybe Jimmy Buffett was the real nematode this entire time.

You can watch “Arachnophobia” on Amazon Prime here.

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