In a hole in a tunicate there lived a hobbit: New shrimp species named after Bilbo Baggins

Digital illustration by Franz Anthony.

Two new species of tiny symbiotic shrimps are described, illustrated and named by biology student at Leiden University Werner de Gier as part of his bachelor’s research project, supervised by Dr. Charles H. J. M. Fransen, shrimp researcher of Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Leiden, the Netherlands).

Inspired by the extremely hairy feet of one of the species, the authors decided that they should honour Middle Earth’s greatest halfling, Bilbo Baggins.

Aptly named Odontonia bagginsi, the new shrimp joins the lines of other species named after Tolkien’s characters such as the cave-dwelling harvestman Iandumoema smeagol, the golden lizard Liolaemus smaug and the two subterranean spiders Ochyrocera laracna and Ochyrocera ungoliant.

Photo by Charles Fransen.

The newly described shrimps were collected during the Ternate expedition to the Indonesian islands of Tidore and Ternate, organised by Naturalis Biodiversity Center and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) in 2009.

Typically for the Odontonia species, the new shrimps do not reach sizes above a centimetre in length, and were found inside tunicates. It is believed that these symbiotic crustaceans are fully adapted to live inside the cavities of their hosts, which explains their small-sized and smooth bodies.

Photo by Charles Fransen.

Unlike most Odontonia species, which live inside solitary tunicates, the new species Odontonia plurellicola was the first one to be associated with a colonial tunicate. These tunicates have even smaller internal cavities, which explains the tiny size of the new species.

To determine the placement of the new species in the tree of life, the scientists compared the shrimps’ anatomical features, including the legs, mouthparts and carapace. As a result, they were assigned to Odontonia. Further, the available genetic information and Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) images of the unusual feet of the newly discovered shrimp provided a new updated identification key for all members of the species group.

“Being able to describe, draw and even name two new species in my bachelor years was a huge honour. Hopefully, we can show the world that there are many new species just waiting to be discovered, if you simply look close enough!” says Werner de Gier, who is currently writing his graduate thesis at Naturalis Biodiversity Center and working together with Dr. Charles Fransen on crustaceans.

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Original source:

de Gier W, Fransen CHJM (2018) Odontonia plurellicola sp. n. and Odontonia bagginsi sp. n., two new ascidian-associated shrimp from Ternate and Tidore, Indonesia, with a phylogenetic reconstruction of the genus (Crustacea, Decapoda, Palaemonidae). ZooKeys 765: 123-160. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.765.25277

Digital illustration by Franz Anthony.

Seven new spider species from Brazil named after 7 famous fictional spider characters

Several literary classics from the fantasy genre are further immortalised and linked together thanks to a Brazilian research team who named seven new spiders after them.

Spider characters from A Song of Ice and Fire, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, H. P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and the children’s favourite Charlotte’s Web and Little Miss Spider each gave a name to a new small cave-dwelling six-eyed spider inhabiting northern Brazil.

Discovered in iron caves across the state of Pará, northern Brazil, the new species belong to the same Neotropical genus Ochyrocera. They are described in a new research article published in the open access journal ZooKeys by Dr Antonio Brescovit, Dr Igor Cizauskas and Leandro Mota – all affiliated with Instituto Butantan, Sao Paulo.

Interestingly, while all seven previously unknown species prefer staying in the shadows underground, none of them has the adaptations characteristic for exclusively cave-dwelling organisms, such as loss of pigmentation and reduced or missing eyes. They are classified as edaphic troglophile species, which means that they are capable of completing their life cycle away from sunlight, but are not bound to the deepest recesses. Often crawling near the surface, they can even be spotted outside the caves. To describe the species, the scientists collected about 2,000 adult specimens following a 5-year series of field collection trips.

Ochyrocera varys predating on a fly [Fig. 21 A]The list of ‘fantasy’ spiders begins with Ochyrocera varys named after Lord Varys from George R. R. Martin’s book series A Song of Ice and Fire. Lord Varys is also known as the Spider because of his manipulative skills and ability to ‘weave’ and command his networks of eyes-and-ears across two continents.

The name of Ochyrocera atlachnacha refers to the Spider God Atlach-Nacha from the universe created by H. P. Lovecraft. Atlach-Nacha is a giant spider with a human-like face which lives in the caves beneath a mountain and spins a web believed to link the world with the Dreamlands.

Two species are named after spider characters from the classic works by J. R. R. Tolkien. Ochyrocera laracna is a species named after the well-known giant spider Laracna (Shelob in English) who attacks main characters Frodo and Sam on their way to Mordor in The Lord of the Rings’ second volume – The Two Towers.

On the other hand, the Brazilian spider’s sibling – Ochyrocera ungoliant – is linked to Laracna’s mother. Ungoliant appears in Tolkien’s book The Silmarillion, whose events take place prior to those of The Lord of the Rings’ second volume The Two Towers. According to the story, Ungoliant translates to Dark Spider in Elvish.

Another staple in the 20th-century fantasy literature, the Harry Potter series, written by J. K. Rowling, also enjoys the attention of the researchers. The species Ochyrocera aragogue is an explicit reference to the talking Aragog, who lives in the dark recesses of the Forbidden Forest. In the second volume of the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, he confronts Harry Potter and Ron Weasley.

The authors do not fail to pay tribute to much less violent spiders known from popular children books. David Kirk’s Little Miss Spider inspires the name of Ochyrocera misspider. The character is remembered with her words: “We have to be good to bugs; all bugs.”A couple of Ochyrocera misspider [Fig. 21 C]

The Ochyrocera charlotte species refers to Charlotte, the spider from E. B. White’s classic Charlotte’s Web who befriends the main character – Wilbur the pig.

It is highly likely that there are many species and populations of this group of spiders yet to be discovered in the Neotropics, since the lack of previous studies in the region. However, the area and its biodiversity are impacted by mining.

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Original source:

Brescovit AD, Cizauskas I, Mota LP (2018) Seven new species of the spider genus Ochyrocera from caves in Floresta Nacional de Carajás, PA, Brazil (Araneae, Ochyroceratidae). ZooKeys 726: 87-130. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.726.19778