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The underwater Hobbit – a new shrimp species

‘In a hole under water there lived a hobbit’: a new species of shrimp named after Bilbo Baggings. Biology student Werner de Gier described this newly discovered species during his bachelor internship at Naturalis Biodiversity Center.

Hairy legs

A new shrimp species with very hairy legs. How would you call that? It was biology student Werner de Gier who faced that question. During his bachelor he did an internship with shrimp expert Charles Fransen from Naturalis Biodiversity Center. Together they described two new species, one of which had very hairy legs. De Gier and Fransen were inspired by the most famous hobbit from Middle-earth: Bilbo Baggings. They named the newly discovered species Odontonia bagginsi, after the last name of Bilbo.

Living in an ascidian

Researchers from Naturalis discovered both new species in 2009 during an expedition to the East Indonesian islands of Ternate and Tidore, in collaboration with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences. Just like all the other Odontonia shrimps, the new species do not exceed one centimeter. They live in symbioses with ascidians (or sea squirts): soft, hollow animals that live among others on coral reefs. Because of their small and smooth body the shrimps are well adapted to life in the cavities of their hosts. De Gier and Fransen named the other miniscule new species after one of those hosts; Odontonia plurellicola lives in the colonial ascidian Plurella. The cavities of these ascidians are even smaller than those of other, solitary ascidians.

Scientific publication

Using DNA analyses and anatomical features, de Gier gave the new species a place in the evolutionary family tree among their related species. To do so, he mainly looked at the small legs of the shrimps, because those contain the most differences within this genus. With the aid of an electron microscope he made photographs to be able to analyse all details as precise as possible. The scientific open-access journal Zookeys published the analyses, descriptions and drawings.

‘It was a great honor to draw, describe and name two entirely new species. Hopefully people now see that there are still many new species to discover, if you look carefully,’ says De Gier. He is currently completing his graduation internship at Naturalis, again about crustaceans at Charles Fransen.

Digital illustration of Odontonia bagginsi. Frans Anthony


De Gier W, Fransen CHJM (2018) Odontonia plurellicola sp. n. and Odontonia bagginsi sp. n., two new ascidian-associated shrimp from Ternate and Tidore, Indonesia (Crustacea, Decapoda, Palaemonidae), with a phylogenetic reconstruction of the genus. Zookeys 765: 123-160. doi: https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.765.25277


Coverpicture: Digital illustration of Odontonia bagginsi. Frans Anthony

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