Article by Shreya Dasgupta.
Meet Chippy, Snooky and Tumpy — all “goblins” or “brownies” from Enid Blyton’s children’s books, and now the names of new species of tiny spiders that scientists have found lurking in Sri Lanka’s forests.
These new species belong to a spider family called “goblin spiders” (Oonopidae family), a group of extremely small arachnids, typically measuring just one to three millimeters in length. In all, the team of researchers, led by arachnologist Suresh Benjamin of the National Institute of Fundamental Studies in Sri Lanka, have described nine new species of these goblin spiders in a new study published in Evolutionary Systematics.
Six of the newly described species — Silhouettella snippy, Silhouettella tiggy, Cavisternum bom, Ischnothyreus chippy, Pelicinus snooky, and Pelicinus tumpy — have been named after popular characters from Enid Blyton books, including Snooky, a “naughty little goblin” from “The Firework Goblins,” and Bom and Tumpy, goblins from “The Goblin Looking Glass.”
“We are always looking for names for new species, and this was also the case during the writing of this paper,” Benjamin told Mongabay in an email. “My son (9) and daughter (6) had discovered some old Enid Blyton books that belonged to me and my two siblings while playing at my parent’s place. They brought them home and said ‘dada can you read these to us’. The first story I read to them was the story of The Firework Goblins.”
Their tiny size aside, goblin spiders tend to be very cryptic, usually living on forest floors among dense leaf litter, which makes them hard to spot. They also have very complex genitalia, Benjamin said, “especially for something that small!”
What’s surprising, Benjamin added, was that most of the newly described goblin spider species in Sri Lanka seem to occur only in a few sites, or just a single forest patch. While the species’ conservation status hasn’t been formally assessed yet, Benjamin thinks they might all be critically endangered.
“The higher elevation taxa are threatened due to climate change for sure,” he said. “Human encroachment of protected forests is also a serious issue in Sri Lanka.”
Among the newly described spiders, two species belong to genera (Cavisternum and Grymeus) that have never been recorded outside of Australia before.
More species of these genera might be awaiting discovery, Benjamin said. “Or the Sri Lankan taxa might be relics of the ancient continent Gondwana. More studies are needed.”
Ranasinghe, U. G. S. L., & Benjamin, S. P. (2018) Taxonomic descriptions of nine new species of the goblin spider genera Cavisternum, Grymeus, Ischnothyreus, Opopaea, Pelicinus, Silhouettella (Araneae, Oonopidae) from Sri Lanka. Evolutionary Systematics2:65-80. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.2.25200