A newfound species of tiny shrimp discovered in Indonesia has been named after one of Middle Earth’s most memorable hobbits, Bilbo Baggins. The creative decision belongs to Werner de Gier, a biology student at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
According to Science Daily, the researchers chose to honor J.R.R. Tolkien’s wildly popular character due to a similarity between the adventurous halfling and the shrimp species’ physical traits, which mirror two of the most famous Hobbit attributes: small stature and hairy feet.
“Aptly named Odontonia bagginsi, the new shrimp joins the lines of other species named after Tolkien’s characters such as the cave-dwelling harvestman Iandumoema smeagol, the golden lizard Liolaemus smaug and the two subterranean spiders Ochyrocera laracna and Ochyrocera ungoliant,” states the media outlet, citing Pensoft Publishers.
Everything we’re dying to know about the “Hobbit” shrimp Odontonia bagginsi de Gier reveals in a new study published in the journal ZooKeys.
In the paper, Odontonia bagginsi is being described alongside another newfound species of shrimp, Odontonia plurellicola, both of which the researcher has named, illustrated, and placed in the tree of life as part of his bachelor’s research project.
“Being able to describe, draw and even name two new species in my bachelor years was a huge honor. 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 said in a statement.
— Phys.org (@physorg_com) June 7, 2018
The biologist, who is currently writing his graduate thesis at Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, found the two shrimp species back in 2009, while exploring the Indonesian islands of Tidore and Ternate.
The research trip, organized by the Dutch center together with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, sent the biologist on an unexpected journey that ended with tiny shrimp discovered “in a hole in a tunicate.”
Found snugged inside their hidden and comfortable housing, the never-before-seen shrimp species are under a centimeter long and “are fully adapted to live inside the cavities of their hosts,” which may account for their tiny size and smooth body surface, notes Science Daily.
these shrimp have hairy feet, so naturally researchers have dubbed them "Odontonia bagginsi." Tolkien would be psyched that his characters beget scientific names. I wonder if these shrimp eat second breakfast…… https://t.co/rJwRFbc1CW
— Joelle Renstrom (@couldthishappen) June 8, 2018
Although the second shrimp species ended up with the less famous-sounding name, it is particularly notable due to one significant detail: Odontonia plurellicola is the first species to be found living inside a colonial tunicate.
Most Odontonia species prefer solitary tunicates and have evolved to live in symbiosis with these marine invertebrates, commonly known as “sea squirts.”
Because of their minuscule size, the newfound crustaceans were studied with scanning electron microscopy to observe their anatomy at very high magnification. The Scanning Electron Microscope revealed that these symbiotic shrimp have “unusual feet,” a trait that is now being used to identify all the members of the species group.