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New eyeless harvestman species named for Tolkien's Smeagol

Unlike its relatives, Smeagol never leaves the darkness of the underground.

By Brooks Hays
New eyeless harvestman species named for Tolkien's Smeagol
Its long exile from the sun and diminished levels of melanin has left the newly named harvestman species a pale yellow color. Photo by Rafael Fonseca-Ferreira

SAO PAULO, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- Researchers in Brazil named a newly discovered harvestman species after Smeagol, the pathetic bottom-dweller from Tolkien's epic Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Harvestmen are better known as daddy longlegs. Researchers say the new daddy longlegs species -- whose full name is Iandumoema smeagol -- is the most highly modified of its relatives. It's also one of only two species without eyes.

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The species was discovered in a humid cave in southeastern Brazil by a team of researchers from the Institute of Bioscience at the University of Sao Paulo.

Unlike many of its relatives, which venture in and out of caves, Smeagol never leaves the darkness of the underground. Its long exile from the sun and diminished levels of melanin has left the species a pale yellow color.

Like the fictional Smeagol, who called an underground lake home, researchers found the newly named harvestman species to prefer the presence of water. The group of arachnids rarely left the trickling streams of water running down the cave walls.

Researchers observed the juveniles to be more active, while adults adopted a rather sedentary lifestyle. One of the young harvestmen was seen scavenging the expired carcasses of invertebrates.

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The new species was described in the journal ZooKeys. The study's authors say more research is needed to understand the species' range.

The unique and isolated nature of the species' habitat, increasingly surrounded by deforestation, may warrant new environmental protections.

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