One for the web: New spider species named for 'Harry Potter' arachnid
Posted July 15, 2017 7:25 p.m. EDT
A new species of wolf spider has been officially named after Aragog, the enormous, sentient arachnid character in the Harry Potter books and movies.
Researchers from the University of Tehran discovered the spider during a search for butterflies in a mountainous area in southeastern Iran. After careful review, the team determined that the spider was in fact an unknown species of wolf spider from the scientific family classification Lycosidae.
The researchers recognized similar physical characteristics between the spider, which they named Lycosa aragogi, and the character Aragog, Hagrid's adored arachnid friend first introduced in the second novel of the series, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets."
They are about 1 inch long and 2 inches wide -- much smaller than the fictional Aragog -- but have similar exoskeletons with eight inset eyes and a furry exterior.
According to Alireza Zamani, a researcher at the University of Tehran and a member of the discovery team, Lycosa Aragogi have undeniable similarities to Aragog, which was modeled after the wolf spider. The movie version came out in 2002.
The official discovery was published this week in Zootaxa, a peer-reviewed scientific journal on animal taxonomy. Lycosa aragogi differ from other wolf spiders because of the unique genital structure in females. While the Lycosidae family of spiders is one of the largest classifications, with over 2,400 species, it has been poorly studied in Iran.
"There are at least hundreds, if not thousands, of spiders in the world that have not been discovered," stated Brian Brown, curator of entomology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. "Much of the world is still a frontier for discovery."
Researchers suspect Lycosa aragogi may also live in other regions of Iran and in neighboring countries.
Like the character Aragog, the Lycosa aragogi spider is an aggressive hunter. They do not build webs but instead hunt at night, feeding on anything they can overpower, mainly crickets and other small insects. They are venomous but not toxic or large enough to harm a human, according to researchers.
The scientists who made the discovery also were inspired by the strong maternal similarities between Lycosa aragogi and Aragog, who allowed his beloved colony to attack Harry Potter and Ron Weasley in the "Forbidden Forest," despite them being close friends of Hagrid.
"Wolf spiders carry their egg sacs all the time and then carry their young, which could be more than a hundred, on their backs during the early weeks," Zamani said.
"I personally grew up loving Harry Potter's books and movies," said Zamani. "Aragog was my favorite 'Fantastic Beast'! We thought it might be a good idea and celebration of this franchise to name the species after the giant, infamous arachnid."
Lycosa aragogi is not the first spider whose name has been inspired by Harry Potter. Last year, scientists in India named a newly discovered spider, Eriovixia gryffindori, that resembled the shape of Hogwarts' famous sorting hat, a nod to Harry Potter's Gryffindor house.
Just as Harry Potter gave an entire generation a profound appreciation for literature, the scientists behind this discovery hope Lycosa aragogi will generate a greater interest in spiders.
"I consider public awareness and education one of my most important goals," said Zamani. "Perhaps, with choosing interesting names for our new species, we could slowly but effectively clear the bad public image of spiders, and make more and more people interested in these fascinating, yet highly neglected group of animals."