Friday, 20 November 2015

New, eyeless arachnid species named after Lord of the Rings’ Smeagol

NOVEMBER 19, 2015

by Chuck Bednar

A new, eyeless, jaundiced-looking species of harvestman discovered in a humid Brazilian cave has been named Iandumoema smeagol in honor of Smeagol, the Lord of the Rings villain also known as Gollum who tries to hinder Frodo’s quest to destroy the One Ring.

Like JRR Tolkien’s version of Smeagol, the arachnid version was first discovered in the depth of a subterranean cave—but this one never leaves it home to go on a journey with a pair of hobbits. Instead, as the Washington Post explains, the harvestman spends its entire life hidden below the Earth’s surface— which explains the lack of eyes and the sickly yellow color.

For that reason, Smeagol underwent a series of adaptations where it lost its eyes because of the generations it spent living in total darkness, as well as most of its melanin, which was no longer needed to protect it from the sunlight. Unfortunately, this evolved inability to travel beyond its cave may have put the species at risk of extinction.

In a statement, Dr. Ricardo Pinto-da-Rocha from Instituto de Biociências da Universidade de São Paulo, Dr. Maria Elina Bichuette, and Rafael Fonseca-ferreira from the Universidade Federal de São Carlos (UFSCar) explained that additional research on the creatures is required to develop a conservation strategy to protect it from deforestation in the ecosystem around its caves.

Smeagol is the most highly modified species of its kind

The Brazillian researchers, who have published their findings in the journal ZooKeys, said that they had discovered a total of 14 adult and juvenile Smeagol specimens in the cave, and that all of them appeared to prefer staying close to wet cave walls and underground streams. The adults were found to be largely sedentary, while the younger ones seems far more active.

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