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Introducing a Hairy-Footed Shrimp Named After Bilbo Baggins

Like its hobbit namesake, Odontonia bagginsi is also quite small

(Charles Fransen)
smithsonian.com

In 2009, scientists plucked a never-before-seen shrimp from the coastal reefs surrounding the Indonesian islands of Ternate and Tidore. The critter was tiny—it measured an eighth-inch long—and had hair covering its eight limbs. Researchers recently described this odd little shrimp for the first time in the journal ZooKeys, and as Jasmin Malik Chua reports for Live Science, they have given it the perfect name: Odontonia bagginsi, after Bilbo Baggins, the hairy-footed character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

O. bagginsi got its name from Werner de Gier, who studied the shrimp as a biology student at Leiden University in the Netherlands (he is now working on his graduate thesis at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden). He illustrated and named the shrimp under the supervision of Dr. Charles H. J. M. Fransen, a shrimp researcher at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center. De Gier also described a second shrimp that was discovered during the 2009 expedition and named it Odontonia plurellicola, which, sadly, is not a moniker inspired by Middle-earth.

O. bagginsi's "hairs" are actually setae, a name for any bristle- or hair-like structure on a living animal. The setae on crustaceans often act like whiskers, helping the animals detect and react to changes in their environment.

Researchers studied the shrimps' key anatomical features, like the legs, mouthparts and shells, according to a statement by ZooKeys publisher Pensoft. They determined that the two shrimp belonged to the Odontonia genus, seven species of which were previously known. Odontonia shrimp are distributed throughout the Indo-West Pacific and are symbiotic crustaceans— O. bagginsi might not live in a hole in the ground, but it does dwell inside hollow-bodied marine invertebrates known as tunicates, or sea squirts.

O. plurellicola, which is even tinier — measuring just 0.05 to 0.06 inches long — also makes its home inside tunicates. As Forbes explains, the shrimp is named after its host, a species of Plurella.

Unlike other Odontonia species, however, O. plurellicola and O. bagginsi do not live in solitary tunicates; their sea squirts of choice live in colonies and are smaller than their solitary counterparts. With their tiny, smooth bodies, both O. plurellicola and O. bagginsi appear to have fully adapted to living in small hosts.

O. bagginsi is not the first creature whose name was inspired by a Tolkien character. Two subterranean arachnids—Ochyrocera laracna and Ochyrocera ungoliant—get their names from spiders in the Lord of the Rings. Sméagol, better known as the hobbitses-hating Gollum, is the namesake of yet another arachnid, Landumoema smeagol. The golden lizard Liolaemus smaug was named after the fearsome, treasure-loving dragon that Bilbo helps defeat in The Hobbit.

Here’s hoping scientists never discover an animal that reminds them of the orcs.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer is based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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