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Introducing Smeagol the Eyeless Arachnid

This newly discovered cave-dwelling daddy longlegs resembles the fictional Tolkien character

A male Iandumoema smeagol, foraging in its cave. (MSc. Rafael Fonseca-Ferreira (CC-BY 4.0))
smithsonian.com

In damp, dark caves underground, there dwells a pale creature twisted by its association with the dark. No, the newly discovered species isn’t Gollum from J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy books, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but the scientists who found the creature were inspired by the likeness, reports Rachel Feltman for The Washington Post.

The creature is a type of harvestmen, or daddy longlegs, a group of arachnids that look similar to, but are not, spiders. The newly found Iandumoema smeagol get’s is species name from the creature Gollum—who was called Sméagol before he was corrupted by the power of the One Ring—and lurks in caves in Minas Gerais, in Brazil, the researchers report in Zookeys. ​

Unlike spiders, harvestmen have fused body parts, so their cephalothorax (head plus thorax) and abdomen appear as one. They usually have two legs that are significantly longer than the others, whereas spiders have similarly-sized legs. Colloquially, the arachnids can be called daddy longlegs, but some other, unrelated creepy-crawlies share that moniker.

"Its name matches its biology," arachnid expert Christopher Buddle, who was not involved in the discovery,  tells Brian Clark Howard of National Geographic. Similar to the fictional Sméagol, I. smeagol  scavenges for carcasses of other invertebrates and lives close to underground water. Yet unlike related cave-dwelling arachnids, not to mention Gollum, the generations of living in darkness left the newly discovered creature without its eyes (and most pigmentation), reports Sam Wong for New Scientist.

Unfortunately, this new species is under threat, Wong reports. The species’ specialization and small area of habitation mean it is especially vulnerable to activities that could threaten that habitat including deforestation and limestone mining nearby.

Though this blind arachnid isn’t the first time scientists named a species after Gollum, perhaps this famous name can help bring this creature enough recognition for a little protection.

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