A new species of cave-dwelling arachnid has been discovered in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil, and its discoverers have given it the somewhat unflattering name Sméagol – in honour of the character from JRR Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” The specimen is a troglobitic harvestman, of which eight other known species have previously been described in Brazil, with reports of at least six other undescribed species. Harvestmen are similar to spiders, yet lack fangs and silk organs.
Troglobites are organisms that spend their entire existence in caves, and as such tend to evolve in isolation, developing a number of specialized selective traits. For instance, the lack of light requires the adoption of certain navigation and predation techniques that do not rely on vision.
Described in the journal Zookeys, the new species, Iandumoema smeagol, becomes the third member of the Iandumoema genus, yet is the first to be found with no eyes. Its discoverers explained that they chose the name since the creature’s shadowy way of life resembled that of Gollum (who Sméagol later became), “the dweller of the caves located below the Misty Mountains of Middle Earth.”
Fortunately, it bears no resemblance to Shelob, the giant spider that lurks close to the entrance to Mordor. In fact, Iandumoema smeagol could not be much further removed from Tolkien’s terrifying spider, with a body that measures less than 5 millimeters in length.
Pale yellow in colour, the harvestman is described as “solitary,” and has been observed scavenging the carcasses of invertebrates. It’s discoverers have voiced concerns over its future, however, since deforestation and plans to install a hydroelectric damn close to its habitat pose significant threats to its survival.