Rather than living inside a cozy burrow in the shire, this flavor of hobbit lives inside the body cavities of filter-feeding invertebrates.
As published in the journal Zookeys, a duo of marine biologists from Leiden University has described two new species of tiny tropical shrimp that live symbiotically with shallow-water tunicates dwelling in the Pacific Ocean around Indonesia.
The specimens that led to the discovery were collected from the coastal reefs around the islands of Tidore and Ternate – part of the cluster known as the Spice Islands or Moluccas – during a 2009 expedition by researchers at the school’s Biodiversity Center.
During their subsequent analysis and illustration, lead author Werner de Gier was tickled to find that the larger of the two novel crustaceans, determined to belong to the genus Odontonia, sported a wealth of fine hairs on the tips of its eight pereiopods – an area that we humans would call a foot. Feeling whimsical, the then-undergraduate student bestowed it with the official scientific moniker of Odontonia bagginsi.
Explaining their decision to anyone reading their paper who has somehow never heard of the beloved Tolkien universe, de Gier and his supervisor, Dr Charles Fransen, note the name is “inspired by the famous Hobbit family name ‘Baggins’ featured in the ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ books. The fictional characters called ‘Hobbits’ possess hairy feet comparable to this species.”
The other species was given the significantly less exciting name Odontonia plurellicola, after the colonial tunicate genus Plurella on which it was found. The other known Odontonia members all live inside solitary tunicates.
- O. plurellicola measures in at 1.3 to 1.55 millimeters (0.05 to 0.06 inches) and, like all Odontonia species, possesses a smooth body shape theorized to help it nestle inside the body cavity. It was found in sandy coral gardens in 9-meter (30-foot) deep water.
- Odontonia bagginsi is slightly larger, at around 3.4 millimeters (0.13 inches), and appears to favor tunicates in rocky coral areas located in 27-meter (89-foot) deep water.
"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!" de Gier, who is currently writing his graduate thesis on crustaceans, said in a statement.
Illustrating the profound impact Tolkien has had on scientifically minded types, earlier this year, Brazilian biologists named two species of cave spiders after the Tolkien characters. Ochyrocera laracna is a nod to Laracna, the Portuguese translation for Shelob, the giant spider creature that stung Frodo; Ochyrocera ungoliant honors Ungoliant, Shelob's near-immortal evil mother.