Pictured: a live male specimen of the recently discovered Iandumoema smeagol, foraging in its natural cave habitat.
Often mistaken as spiders, Opiliones (commonly known as daddy longlegs or harvestmen) are an order of arachnid believed to contain thousands of different species. They are found across the globe in a variety of locations and sizes, with new species being discovered relatively often. This year a new eyeless harvestman species was found crawling in a humid cave in southeastern Brazil, and was thus appropriately named after one of J.R.R Tolkien’s most famous “Lord of the Rings” characters, the cave-dwelling Smeagol.
The find was made by the Brazilian research team of Dr. Ricardo Pinto-da-Rocha, Instituto de Biociências da Universidade de São Paulo together with Dr. Maria Elina Bichuette and MSc. Rafael Fonseca-ferreira from Universidade Federal de São Carlos (UFSCar), and is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.
According to a statement from Pensoft Publishers announcing the discovery, the new daddy longlegs species is the most highly modified representative among its close relatives, and only the second one with no eyes living in Brazil.
While there are cave dwellers that can easily survive above ground and even regularly venture out in order to feed or mate, there are some, such as the new harvestman species, Iandumoema smeagol, that never leave their subterranean habitats. As an adaptation, the new harvestman species is eyeless and has a reduced amount of melanistic pigmentation, which shows through its pale yellowish colors.
This is the entrance of Toca do Geraldo cave, a limestone cave of Bambuí Geomorphological Unit, where most of the studied specimens have been discovered. Photo credit: Dr. Maria Elina Bichuette
The fourteen adult and juvenile individuals found by the researchers were observed to always stay close to a stream, most often preferring the wet cave walls. While the juveniles appeared quite active, the adults showed a more sedentary behaviour, the researchers said.
Typical of harvestmen, the new species was found in a cave with organic matter deposits. On one occasion, the team observed one of the individuals in the litter scavenging carcasses of invertebrates.
With little known about the new species, the researchers point out that additional studies are urgent so that an adequate conservation strategy can be assumed. The researchers believe that because of the new species’ highly restricted distribution, and with deforestation taking place near where the new harvestmen were found, protected areas must be created to preserve the new species.