Look down here my precioussssss. Scientists in Brazil have just identified a new species of harvestman, or daddy longlegs, and they’ve named it with a playful-but-accurate reference to a character from the Lord of the Rings saga.
Iandumoema smeagol is an eyeless, cave-dwelling harvestman named for Smeagol, the hapless hobbit who became slimy cave-dweller Gollum in J.R.R. Tolkien's series of novels (and later, films).
“Its name matches its biology,” says arachnid expert Christopher Buddle of Canada's McGill University, referring to the fact that Smeagol spent years isolated in a cave, eventually growing into the pale, secluded Gollum. Similarly, the arachnid lost most of its pigmentation after generations of living in moist, dark caves.
“What is remarkable about this species is that its got a rather nifty name—a name that resonates with the public—and its biology is quite interesting as a secretive cave-dweller,” says Buddle, who was not involved in the new research. The paper's lead author is Ricardo Pinto-da-Rocha of Sao Paulo's Instituto de Biociences.
Harvestmen are arachnids but not spiders. They belong to a different order (Opiliones). Harvestmen have a single pair of eyes and a fused body structure that differs from spiders, which they otherwise superficially resemble. Harvestmen are a diverse group of more than 6,500 species. They are often scavengers or omnivores, and those that are hunters aren’t considered dangerous to people because they lack venom and sharp teeth (learn what to do if you see a spider in your house).
As a group harvestmen are generally understudied, says Buddle. New species are named frequently, but many more are expected to be found. This latest species was found near the town of Monjolos in Minas Gerais, in southeastern Brazil. The cave it calls home is not protected, leading the Brazilian scientists who described it noting that it could be vulnerable to extinction, since it would be difficult for the animal to spread to other areas.
Norman I. Platnick, an arachnologist with the American Museum of Natural History in New York, adds that the genus, Iandumoema, appears to occur only in caves. “This discovery isn’t all that unusual,” he says.
“Slowly but surely we pick away at discovering and naming our earth’s biodiversity,” says Buddle.
That’s not unlike the slow, purposeful footsteps of hobbits.