This week, researchers discovered a new species of daddy longlegs. They named it Iandumoema smeagol, taking the latter half of the name from the character in the Lord of the Rings books and movies.
Like they did with Pluto, scientists have once again shown that they are not always the best when it comes to naming things.
For non-dorks, and people who haven't seen the Lord of the Rings films recently, Smeagol was the real name of Gollum, one of the recurring antagonists of J.R.R. Tolkien's work. He's sort of like a wretched, evil version of Yoda. And, like the arachnid that now bears his name, he lived in a cave and wasn't very social.
But, and I cannot stress that enough, he also was not a spider. Technically, as a daddy long legs or harvestman, neither is Iandumoema smeagol, but that's not the point. The point is that if spider researchers wanted to name a specimen after a Tolkien character, they could have done much, much better than Gollum.
Tolkien could not go more than a book or two without packing in terrifying, 8-legged creatures, most of whom also lived in caves. Our cup runneth over with Tolkien arachnids, so why go with the more popular Smeagol? It would be like naming a new species of tree after Aragorn because he's tall, when there's a character who is literally a tree. Named Treebeard.
So if we're going to start raiding Lord of the Rings for spider names, let's at least keep it accurate.
Probably the best known spider in the Tolkien universe is Shelob. This is the spider that captures Lord of the Rings protagonist Frodo and paralyzes him. Sam, thinking that Frodo has died at the legs of this spider, temporarily bears the One Ring in his stead. It's a big deal.
Sounds like a good name to give to a newly-found arachnid. Or did you miss the 2003 Oscars when Return of the King won Best Picture?
And then there are the spiders in The Hobbit. That's right, spiders, with an s. They capture the dwarves Bilbo Baggins is traveling with, and would have probably killed them if it were not for Bilbo's quick thinking.
Those spiders don't really have names other than "spiders." But there are plenty of names associated with them. Mirkwood, the name of the forest the spiders live in, would have worked nicely. It also sounds like a great name for a brand of fantasy-themed marijuana (marijuana VCs, let's talk).
But of course, the greatest Tolkien spider wasn't even in Lord of the Rings. If you want to know the baddest of the bad arachnids, you need to pick up a copy of The Silmarillion and go back to the very beginning of Middle Earth, before humans were on the scene and the elves were still young.
Ungoliant is probably the only pure evil entity in all of Tolkien's fiction. Almost everyone else starts out at least neutral and becomes corrupted—even big, bad guys like Sauron and Morgoth. But Ungoliant is just an unending hunger in the form of a giant, black, hairy spider.
She basically brings an end to the Garden of Eden-esque days of early Middle Earth by consuming the light of the trees that previously illuminated the world. Her desire to devour all she sees is so great, it's implied in the book that's how she eventually dies, consuming herself.
At least some scientists are onboard with this theory. In 2007, a new spider was given the name Nemesia ungoliant. So contrary to the popular stereotype, I guess some scientists can be nerds after all. Unlike some others I know.