Species new to science named after a ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ character

Focused on terrestrial gastropods, more commonly known as land snails, a joint team of biologists from the Natural History Museum of Stuttgart, Germany and the Zoology Museum of São Paulo, Brazil, have been researching the Brazilian caves. In their latest paper, published in the journal Zoosystematics and Evolution, the scientists describe the fauna from several caves in central Brazil, including a new tiny species named after a character from the popular fantasy tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.

The team of Dr. Rodrigo Salvador, Daniel Cavallari and Dr. Luiz Simone encountered a rich assembly of species, several of which measured as much as a few millimetres. However, apart from filling important gaps in the knowledge of these tropical animals, they went even further, having discovered a land snail new to science. While it is not uncommon for studies dealing with the invertebrate fauna to end up describing new species, this minute mollusc (nearly 2 mm in length) attracted extra attention. The team which discovered the mollusc has named it Gastrocopta sharae, after Shar, the goddess of darkness, caverns and secrets in Dungeons & Dragons.

“It’s a fitting name for a tiny snail that lives hidden in the dark recesses of a cavern,” explain the authors. “If your knowledge of mythological beings seems to have failed you, do not fret. Usually biologists tend to honour Greek and Roman deities when naming species, but the goddess Shar has a more colourful background. She is from Dungeons & Dragons, the most famous role-playing game in the world, currently in its 5th edition and a staple of geek culture.”

Nevertheless, this is not the first time that Dungeons & Dragons has been immortalised in a species’ scientific name. In 2014, the very same team described another tiny snail, this time, one with a taste for deep waters, specifically those of the Atlantic Ocean. The scientists named it Halystina umberlee, after another Dungeons & Dragons goddess – Umberlee, who commands the harshness and perils of the sea.

The tropical snails are still poorly understood, although they are one of the most threatened animal groups – both by human activities and environmental changes. Moreover, since cave-dwelling invertebrates, in general, receive scarce attention from researchers, it should come as no surprise that cave-dwelling snails are even less known.

“Getting to know the fauna inhabiting each cavern is a demanding task, but a much-needed one,” note the researchers. “Caverns are known to have very fragile ecosystems and several lack proper protection, so works like ours are an important step for conservation efforts.”

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Original source:

Salvador RB, Cavallari DC, Simone LRL (2017) Taxonomical study on a sample of land and freshwater snails from caves in central Brazil, with description of a new species. Zoosystematics and Evolution 93(1): 135-141. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.93.10995

Smeagol found underground in Brazil: New eyeless and highly modified harvestman species

Called after Tolkien’s character from the “Lord of the Rings” series, a new eyeless harvestman species was found to crawl in a humid cave in southeastern Brazil. Never getting out of its subterranean home, the new daddy longlegs species is the most highly modified representative among its close relatives and only the second one with no eyes living in Brazil. Its introduction to science, made by the Brazilian research team of Dr. Ricardo Pinto-da-Rocha, Instituto de Biociências da Universidade de São Paulo together with Dr. Maria Elina Bichuette and MSc. Rafael Fonseca-ferreira from Universidade Federal de São Carlos (UFSCar), is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

While there are cave dwellers that can easily survive above the ground and even regularly go out in order to feed or mate, there are some, such as the new harvestman species, Iandumoema smeagol, that never leave their subterranean habitats. As an adaptation, the new harvestman species is eyeless and has a reduced amount of melanistic pigmentation, which shows through its pale yellowish colours.

The fourteen adult and juvenile individuals, observed by the researchers, were noticed to always stay close to the stream, most often preferring the wet cave walls. While the juveniles appeared quite active, the adults showed a more sedentary behaviour.

Typically for the harvestmen, the new species was found in a cave with organic matter deposits or spots. On one occasion the team observed one of the individuals in such litter, where it was scavenging carcasses of invertebrates.

In conclusion, the authors point out that additional studies on the population biology of the new species are urgent so that an adequate conservation strategy can be assumed. It is probable that its highly restricted distribution along with the deforestation taking place in the cave’s immediate surroundings call for the creation of protected areas.

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Original source:

Pinto-da-Rocha R, Fonseca-Ferreira R, Bichuette ME (2015) A new highly specialized cave harvestman from Brazil and the first blind species of the genus: Iandumoema smeagol sp. n. (Arachnida, Opiliones, Gonyleptidae). ZooKeys 537: 79-95. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.537.6073

Long-snouted Amazonian catfishes including three new species to form a new genus

Being close relatives within the same genus, eight catfishes showed enough external differences, such as characteristic elongated mouths, hinting to their separate origin. Following a thorough morphological as well as molecular analysis, a team of researchers suggested that five previously known species along with three new ones, which they have found during their survey, need a new genus to accommodate for their specificity. The study, conducted by a Brazilian research team from Universidade Estadual Paulista and led by Dr. Fabio F. Roxo, is available in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Among other physical peculiarities, the longer snout-like mouths of the herein discussed catfishes is a characteristic that sets them apart. This is also why the authors have chosen the name of Curculionichthys for the proposed genus, formed by the Latin word for “elongated snout” and the suffix “ichthys” meaning “fishes” in Greek.

Furthermore, one of the new species the researchers describe in the present paper surprises with its several dark-brown spots spread across its body. This colouration is unlike any other in its relatives that have various pigment patterns, yet never dark brown spots.

However, other overlapping morphological features as well as the closeness in the species’ researched habitats suggest they have a common ancestor, once lived in the Amazonian drainages.

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Original source:

Roxo FF, Silva GSC, Ochoa LA, Oliveira C (2015) Description of a new genus and three new species of Otothyrinae (Siluriformes, Loricariidae). ZooKeys 534: 103-134. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.534.6169

Predator from a tank: New water mite genus from bromeliad phytotelmata

An extensive sampling effort in bromeliad aquatic fauna in Brazilian subtropical area of the Atlantic rainforest, revealed a new water mite genus and a new species in the Atlantic rainforests in São Paulo, Brazil. This research is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

The scientist chose to name the new genusBromeliacarus after its host and the Latin word for ‘mite’ (‘acarus’). The new species, B. cardoso, is called after its collection point, the State Park of Ilha do Cardoso, São Paulo, Brazil.

The rosette (circular) formation of some bromeliad species traps water and organic matter from the canopy in leaf axils (bromeliad ‘tank’) and harbors many invertebrate animals species. Bromeliads phytotelmata are considered as biodiversity amplifiers in the environments where they occur due to the high number of species in this habitat which prefer it.

“A diverse aquatic arthropod fauna is associated with bromeliad tank, composed mainly of aquatic insect larvae of several groups such as dipterans, beetles and damselflies, but also small non-insect invertebrates, such as ostracods, oligochaetes and mites,” the lead author Vladimir Pešić from the Department of Biology, University of Montenegro explained. “The new species appear to live only in the water-filled leaf axils of the bromeliads where they walk attached to submerged detritus in bromeliads tank or free swimming in water column”.

“In these bromeliad aquatic microcosms water mites, such as the new genus Bromeliacarus, are top predators,” he concluded.

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Original source:

Peši? V, Piccoli GCO, de Araújo MS, Rezende JM (2015) A new genus of water mites (Acari, Hydrachnidia, Wettinidae) from bromeliad phytotelmata in the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest.ZooKeys 516: 27-33. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.516.10179