Before they traipsed through the sacred Indian grove or studied the hat-shaped spider, before they realized it was a new species or assigned it a peculiar name, scientific researchers Javed Ahmed and Rajashree Khalap discovered Harry Potter.
Ahmed first cracked open the books in his teens. For Khalap, it was in adulthood.
They anxiously awaited the release of “The Cursed Child” and were delighted to learn of that universe’s expansion in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” The scientists couldn’t help drawing a parallel between author J.K. Rowling’s fictional world and the critters still undiscovered in their own.
That sentiment propelled them into the small sacred grove in the Shivamogga district of the southwestern Indian state of Karnataka, where a “biodiversity hotspot” had been preserved for generations by villagers and their ancestors.
There the scientists, along with colleague Sumukha J.N., found their own fantastic beasts, including one spider that looked like a lady bug and another tiny arachnid that brought their love for “Harry Potter” full circle.
It was shaded brown, triangular shaped and, Ahmed and Khalep agreed, looked identical to Rowling’s mischievous Sorting Hat.
The hat is a staple at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where Harry Potter and his pals spend most of their time throughout the seven books. Brown and tattered, it is placed on the head of each first-year student and, through a slit in the aged brim folds, shouts out the child’s house assignment after some pondering.
The houses are named after the school’s four founders and known for certain defining qualities.
One founder, Godric Gryffindor, was the original owner of the Sorting Hat.
After the scientists trapped the hat-like spider, examined and dissected it, Ahmed told The Washington Post it became “abundantly clear” they had discovered a new species. That meant its naming fell to the trio.
The tiny brown spider became Eriovixia gryffindori.
In a study of the spider published in the Indian Journal of Arachnology, the three researchers wrote a heartfelt tribute to their etymological inspiration, Rowling and her literary works.
This uniquely shaped spider derives its name from the fabulous, sentient magical artifact, the sorting hat, owned by the (fictitious) medieval wizard Godric Gryffindor, one of the four founders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and stemming from the powerful imagination of Ms. J.K. Rowling, wordsmith extraordinaire, as presented in her beloved series of books, featuring everyone’s favorite boy-wizard, Harry Potter. An ode from the authors, for magic lost, and found, in an effort to draw attention to the fascinating, but oft overlooked world of invertebrates, and their secret lives.
Ahmed thought the “Harry Potter”-inspired moniker “would be a wonderful way to draw attention to an oft neglected group of organisms,” and Khalap “enthusiastically approved.”
So did Rowling.
On Twitter, the author responded to a tweet from Ahmed about the study.
“I’m truly honoured!” she wrote. “Congratulations on discovering another #FantasticBeast!”
“When I first read the books, I had no idea I would one day end up naming a species, after such an interesting, fun and whimsical character, and be congratulated by Rowling herself,” Ahmed said. “It was quite a moment.”
And it seems the team’s efforts to spotlight their latest find — the sixth new spider discovery since their research began two years ago — has paid off.
Online, people praised the clever naming.
The curious shape of E. gryffindori, which is only 7 mm in length, allows the spider to camouflage itself among the thick vegetation in the Western Ghats mountains, stretching for about 990 miles along India’s western coast.
The mountain range is home to a wide array of the country’s species and is recognized as one of the world’s eight “hottest hotspots” of biological diversity, according to UNESCO. But they have been threatened by the coffee, tea, rubber and oil palm industries or have been logged, reported Earth Touch News Network.
The range was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012 but illegal logging and hunting still threaten the area. Ahmed said the sacred grove where the E. gryffindori was discovered has no legal protection.
The biodiversity they found there, he said, was “staggering,” home to many “fantastic beasts.”
In his interview with Earth Touch, Ahmed joked about a different Rowling character, Aragog, an enormous, hairy, talking spider that lives in the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts and appears in the second book, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”
The creature’s name is derived from Greek words that translate to “leader of the spiders.”
Ahmed told Earth Touch that he is not ruling the name out.
“We might name another cool spider after Aragog!” he said.
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