Researchers in São Paulo, Brazil have discovered a new species of amoeba whose signature funnel-shaped carapace bears a strong resemblance to a wizard's hat.
Amoeba Named After Gandalf
The new species was named Arcella gandalfi, or A. gandalfi, after one of the most prominent warlocks of J. R. R. Tolkien's high-fantasy novel, Lord of the Rings.
A. gandalfi comes in various colors, from light yellow to brown. Its cone-shaped carapace measures 0.0032 inches in diameter and 0.0028 inches in height. Despite its minute appearance, A. gandalfi is considered large for a single-celled organism, especially for its genus.
Unlike ordinary species of amoeba, camoeba, which is one of amoeba's 30 to 45 lineages and a common prey to other animals, has evolved to produce outer shells in various shapes to cover its soft body, but A. gandalfi is no ordinary camoebian.
Experts believe that for A. gandalfi, the carapace does not work as a defensive mechanism against predators such as protozoans called ciliates known to eat the carapace of camoeba but rather as a moisture-lock shield and a safety net that blocks UV radiation.
"A multicellular organism has a number of protective barriers against UV radiation, including a layer of keratin, as well as skin pigments. In the case of single-cell organisms like amoebae, their DNA is basically exposed," Daniel J. G. Lahr, the principal investigator for the project, explained in an official press release.
The entire research was published online last December 2016 in the journal Acta Protozoologica.
A. Gandalfi, A Flagship Species
Based on biometric and morphological characterization, researchers concluded that A. gandalfi's distinctive wizard hat-shaped shell was never seen before among other species from the genus Arcella, one of the largest genera of testate amoebae.
"The identification of a new species of microorganism in the Southern Hemisphere, as in the case of this amoeba, is very strong evidence that its geographic distribution is restricted to the region because Northern Hemisphere environments have been studied in far more depth," Lahr stated.
Given its unique morphological features and geographic distribution, researchers believe it may potentially be used as a new flagship species or an ambassador species for a defined ecosystem, habitat, or environmental cause.
A. gandalfi is not the first species christened in reference to famous fictional wizards. Last year, arachnologists named a novel spider species Eriovixia gryffindori because of its uncanny resemblance to the Sorting Hat from J.K. Rowling's best-selling novel Harry Potter.