Newly Discovered Shrimp Species With ‘Extremely Hairy Feet’ Named For Bilbo Baggins

A new species of shrimp found in Indonesia has been named after LoTR’s Bilbo Baggins because it’s very small, it lives in a round house, and it has extremely hairy feet!

by GrrlScientist for Forbes | @GrrlScientist

Meet “Bilbo Baggins’s shrimp” (Odontonia bagginsi).
(Credit: Artist’s digital illustration by Franz Anthony / doi:
10.3897/zookeys.765.25277 / CC-BY 4.0)

If you’re a fan of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, then you’ll be excited to learn that a newly discovered shrimp species has been named after Bilbo Baggins, the Halfling who started the entire fantastical quest when he accidentally obtained the One Ring of power from Smeagol in the prequel, The Hobbit.

The new shrimp’s small size and its eight extremely hairy pereiopods — feet — reminded researchers of Bilbo Baggins (also small with very hairy feet), and inspired its fanciful scientific name, Odontonia bagginsi.

“The species is named ‘bagginsi’, inspired by the famous Hobbit family name, ‘Baggins’, featured in the ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ books,” the authors wrote in their paper (ref). “The fictional characters, called ‘Hobbits’, possess hairy feet comparable to this species.”

This new-to-science “Bilbo Baggins’s shrimp” joins a rather exclusive and eerie Tolkien-inspired menagerie: the golden lizard, Liolaemus smaug; the cave-dwelling harvestman, Iandumoema smeagol, a type of spider; and two subterranean spiders, Ochyrocera laracna (“Laracna” is the Portuguese translation for Shelob, the giant spider that stung Frodo) and Ochyrocera ungoliant (Ungoliant was an evil spirit that took the form of a giant spider, who was Shelob’s mother).

This new shrimp species was one of two discovered by Werner de Gier, an biology undergrad working on his bachelor’s degree research project at Leiden University at the time, and his supervisor, Charles H. J. M. Fransen, a shrimp expert at Naturalis Biodiversity Center in The Netherlands. The other shrimp that Mr. de Gier and Dr. Fransen discovered was a close relative to the “Bilbo Baggins’s shrimp”. Disappointingly, instead of naming this shrimp after Frodo Baggins, they instead dubbed it Odontonia plurellicola, for the sea squirt host, a species of Plurella, where they first found it.

Both newly discovered shrimps and their tunicate hosts live in coastal reefs around the Indonesian islands of Ternate and Tidore. These islands are part of the legendary Maluku archipelago located in the Banda Sea, more commonly known as the “Spice Islands” for the rare and valuable spices they produced. The researchers’ discoveries were made during a 2009 expedition to Tidore and Ternate, organised by Naturalis Biodiversity Center and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

Both newly-described shrimps have smooth bodies and are very small. Odontonia plurellicola measures between 1.3 and 1.55 millimeters (0.05 to 0.06 inches) long and lives in sandy coral gardens at a depth of 9 meters (30 feet). Odontonia bagginsi is slightly larger, around 3.4 millimeters (0.13 inches) long, and is found in rocky coral at a depth of 27 meters (89 feet).

Small body sizes are typical amongst these shrimps’ closest relatives, the Odontonia species. Also like other Odontonia species, these two newly discovered shrimps are symbiotic, living in a mutually beneficial relationship inside the body cavity of their hosts, the tunicates, which are also known as sea squirts. Tunicates are hollow-bodied marine invertebrates, many of which are shaped like a potato. They are sessile creatures, living out their lives attached to pilings in intertidal zones, traveling the world cemented to ships’ hulls, and they even set up housekeeping whilst clinging onto the backs of large crabs wandering the ocean floor at great depths.

But unlike their closest relatives, these two newly discovered shrimps do not live symbiotically within solitary tunicates; instead, their hosts are a different sort of sea squirt, known as colonial tunicates. Smaller than solitary sea squirts, colonial tunicates also have correspondingly smaller body cavities. This of course, means their shrimp symbionts are even … shrimpier … than their closest shrimp relatives. The constraints imposed by their hosts explains these shrimps’ smooth body surfaces as well as their small body sizes.

But where do these tiny, very unusual, shrimps fit into the Tree of Life? To answer that question, Mr. de Gier and Dr. Fransen measured and compared a number of their anatomical features, including their legs, mouthparts and carapace (the hard upper body shell). Based on this work, Mr. de Gier and Dr. Fransen classified the two shrimps into the genus Odontonia. But more important, the new genetic data they collected from these shrimps, along with the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) images of their fuzzy feet, now provide scientists with an updated identification key for all members of this genus.

Was Mr. de Gier excited to discover and name two species that are new to science?

“Being able to describe, draw and even name two new species in my bachelor [degree] years was a huge honour,” Mr. de Gier said in a press release. Perhaps this excitement contributed to Mr. de Gier’s career choice: He is currently writing his Master’s thesis on crustaceans at Naturalis Biodiversity Center under the mentorship of Dr. Fransen.

“Hopefully, we can show the world that there are many new species just waiting to be discovered, if you simply look close enough!”


Werner de Gier, and Charles H.J.M. Fransen (2018). Odontonia plurellicola sp. n. and Odontonia bagginsi sp. n., two new ascidian-associated shrimp from Ternate and Tidore, Indonesia, with a phylogenetic reconstruction of the genus (Crustacea, Decapoda, Palaemonidae), ZooKeys, 765:123–160 | doi:10.3897/zookeys.765.25277

Originally published at Forbes on 8 June 2018.

PhD evolutionary ecology/ornithology. Psittacophile. scicomm Forbes, previously Guardian. always Ravenclaw. discarded scientist & writer, now an angry house elf