STATES CHRONICLE – Most of us would gladly rather skip any dates with spiders – or anything that resembles the panic-inducing long-legged insects. But maybe the love for the worldwide popular Lord of the Rings saga could convince some us to get a sight of this species of harvestman.
Just look at this precioussss species of arachnid that scientists in Brazil have recently identified and playfully – but accurately – named Iandumoema smeagol. Just like the pale cave-dweller hobbit it is named after, this slimy harvestman has a name that matches its biology. (For further reference, see the movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s series of novels).
According to Christopher Buddle, an arachnid expert at the Canada’s McGill University, Iandumoema smeagol is an eyeless arachnid whose pigmentation is almost inexistent after living in moist, dark caves for many generations. But more than just resonating with the public, the nifty name of the new species also mirrors the behavior of the secretive Smeagol.
Arachnids are a class of animals with four pair of legs, including spiders, mites, scorpions, and ticks; that’s why harvestmen are arachnids, but not spiders. Harvestmen are part of another order called Opiliones. Except for having just one pair of eyes a slightly different body structure, harvestmen do resemble spiders.
As of 2011, researchers have discovered more than 6,500 species of harvestmen, proving the wide diversity of the group. Humans have nothing to be afraid of, as harvestmen are largely omnivores or scavengers. In the case of hunters, they are still inoffensive due to their lack of venom and sharp teeth.
Despite the large number of members, harvestmen are generally understudied as a group, according to Buddle. Finding new species is rather frequent, but not all occasions make it in the news; experts say many more are expected to be found.
Iandumoema smeagol was found in Brazil, outside the town of Monjolos in Minas Gerais. The Brazilian scientists noted its cave is not on protected land, which can leave the new species vulnerable to extinction. At the same time, the animal – preferring the darkness of the cave – would have a difficult time spreading to other areas.
Norman I. Platnick, an arachnologist working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York who was not involved in the research, adds that it’s not unusual for the genus, Iandumoema, to be found only in caves. Even though discovering and naming our planet’s biodiversity might resemble the slow footsteps of hobbits, we’re getting there.
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