A team of Brazilian arachnid biologists (and presumed literature lovers) has discovered 7 new species of cave spiders – and they named each one after a famous eight-legged (and in one case two-legged) character.
The species were discovered in a cave system formed of iron-rich sediment deposits in the state of Pará. The group’s paper, published in the open-access journal ZooKeys, represents five years of work studying the spiders in the field and the collection of approximately 2,000 specimens.
The spiders spend most of their time tucked away in darkness, though at times they were observed venturing into the light at the cave entrances. This lifestyle choice earns them the title of an edaphic troglophile species, meaning that they live in dirt and have adapted to spending all their time in caves. But unlike their troglobite cousins, they are not bound exclusively to a subterranean domain.
Now that these species are immortalized in the biological record, let’s explore some of the masterful fictional universes that inspired their monikers.
First up are two species whose namesakes are monstrous arachnids from the mind of J.R.R. Tolkien:
Ochyrocera laracna is named for Laracna, the Portuguese translation of Shelob, a giant spider that guards one of the passages into Mordor. Much like O. laracna, Shelob is also a cave spider (slash immortal ancient creature). According to her Lord of the Rings Fandom Wikia entry: “she resided [near Cirith Ungol], making a labyrinth of webs within a network of caves… She feasted primarily on those who wandered into her webs, though if a particularly juicy morsel was available, she would silently pursue and kill it."
You might recall from the Lord of the Rings books and films that Frodo, apparently looking quite juicy, is poisoned by Shelob and wrapped up in a cobweb. He is paralyzed, jaundiced, and pathetically in need of rescue, again (sigh).
Ochyrocera ungoliant is named for Shelob’s mother, Ungoliant, the primordial spider from the Undying Lands who later moved to Middle Earth. The Wikia page tells us she was once an ally of Melkor (also known as Morgoth) an even badder baddie than Sauron. But then she “changed her allegiance from him to herself, desiring only to be a mistress of her own insatiable craving to devour all light, to feed her everlasting emptiness.” Yikes.
Next up, Ochyrocera varys was the only species named after a human character, Lord Varys from the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. Varys, a master of espionage, is called the Spider because of his skill at cultivating a web (get it?) of informants.
Ochyrocera aragogue is sure to please any invertebrate enthusiast in the millennial age bracket, as it’s named for Aragog, the car-sized sentient spider from the Harry Potter series. As everyone knows, Aragog was Hagrid’s pet back when the gamekeeper was a young Hogwarts student. But Aragog got loose around the time that Tom Riddle was terrorizing the school with a basilisk, and he and Hagrid became the unfortunate scapegoats.
Ochyrocera charlotte is an homage to – you guessed it – Charlotte, the clever and kind barn spider who saves the life of Wilbur the pig in the beloved 1952 children’s classic, Charlotte’s Web.
The last two species are Ochyrocera misspider and Ochyrocera atlachnacha, the former references a friendly children’s book character, and the latter represents Atlach-Nacha, a giant spider-like entity with a human face from the H.P. Lovecraft Myth Circle.
Now, unless you live in northern Brazil, it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any of these newly identified spiders. But the well-read researchers have provided an easy method for appreciating their existence: Go pick up one of the books or movies referenced here. And maybe think twice before messing with the next eight-legged friend you find hiding in the recesses of your closet.