Scientists named Smeagol a new species of harvestman, an arachnid daddy longlegs, found in Brazil. The Iandumoema smeagol was named after the J.R.R. Tolkien-created character from the Lord of the Rings saga due to its resemblance.
Christopher Buddle, from McGill University in Canada, stated that the name is an accurate reference to its biology, as the Smeagol character spent many years isolated in a cave, from where it’s second persona, the Gollum, evolved. Buddle stated that this species lost most of its pigmentation after many generations lived inside these dark caves –having a pale, yellow color.
Although harvestmen are considered arachnids, they aren’t spiders, as they belong to a different order: the Opiliones. These species have a single pair of eyes, a different body structure than spiders, but at first sight they are superficially similar to their fellow arachnid spiders.
Harvestmen belong to a highly diverse group that includes more than 6,500 species, often omnivores or scavengers. However, they lack of venom and sharp teeth, so they don’t pose a threat to humans. Buddle explained that, harvestmen as group, are understudied. It is common for scientists to discover a new species frequently, and they expect to continue to found them.
An eyeless pale fellow arachnid
The Smeagol was found in southeastern Brazil, near the town of Monjolos in Minas Gerais. Scientists noted that these caves aren’t protected, so there is a high chance that this species could disappear in a near future, since it would be difficult for them to migrate towards other area.
“What is remarkable about this species is that they 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, not involved in the new research, according to National Geographic.
Researchers believe that this is one of the most highly-modified of its relatives, since they are one of only two species that don’t have eyes. The Smeagol, similar to the fictional character, never seems to leave the caves –unlike their relatives, that go in and out.
The Smeagol blindness is one of the examples of troglomorphic, a physical adaptation adopted by those species that reside in these dark places, such as caves. These features, like blindness and the loss of pigmentation, are highly observed in cave-dwelling animals.
Streaming down the cave’s walls
Also, scientists found that the Smeagol lives near the presence of underground water. These arachnids are always swimming in the water streams running down the cave walls. Researchers noted that the juveniles present a more active behavior, while adults have a sedentary life style. They reported how the observed one of the young ones scavenging the expired carcasses of invertebrates, according to UPI.
However, Norman Platnick, an arachnologist of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, explained that the species genus, Iandumoema, are typically found in caves, so we shouldn’t be surprised about the discovery. Buddle added that scientists are discovering and naming – however slow the process may be – the Earth’s entire biodiversity.
Source: Journal ZooKeys